Trip Start Apr 11, 2008
Trip End Jul 03, 2008

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Where I stayed

Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Friday, June 6, 2008

On Friday, June 6th, I boarded a 50 minute flight from Madrid to Lisbon, Portugal.  Despite the fact that Portugal and Spain are Iberian neighbors, the two countries are not exactly the closest of friends.  In fact, the cultures are dramatically different.  I have been told that although Portuguese people understand Spanish, they don't like to speak it, and would much prefer to speak English.  A Portuguese friend of mine told me this was because Spain and Portugal have spent centuries fighting about small plots of land "just to the right" and "just to the left" of both of its borders, and at one point, Spain ruled over Portugal until Portugal finally fought their way to independence in 1640.  As a result, the Portuguese have spent the last 360+ years trying to show they world that they are NOT Spanish. 

As I mentioned, the flight to Lisbon was only 50 minutes, and they are 1 hour behind Madrid (only 5 hours different from EST), so you basically arrive in Lisbon at the same time that you leave.  Plus, the weather is dramatically different.  Madrid has had a very cool and rainy spring (everyone complains about it), but in Lisbon it was 85, sunny and beautiful.  Luckily, one of my co-workers here in Madrid is in the process of moving from Lisbon to Madrid and his wife still lives in Lisbon.  So, I had people to do things with on Saturday, and of course, I had lots of suggestions of great places to walk and see from other friends who had been to Lisbon.  So, on Friday afternoon, I checked into my hotel, which by the way, was GREAT - huge room (American standards), nice bar, friendly people, and right in the center of the city, and headed out to "Las Dockas" (docks).  I have included pics of the areas.  The Dockas are basically a group of bars and restaurants all aligned on edge of the Tagus River (which is the longest river in Europe - runs from the Atlantic ocean clear across Spain) overlooking a marina.  I walked around for a couple of hours, then sat down at a table right on the water and had a light dinner.  There were a couple of Irish pubs on the same stretch of buildings that were full of very drunk Brits who were making quite a ruckus.  I hung out for awhile after dinner, walked around again, but as the night set in I could tell that the Dockas was going to be a bit more "pickled" than I was really in the mood for.  So, I grabbed a cab back to my hotel and called it a night. 

I was planning to meet my friends, Thomas and his wife, Claudia, for some beach time later that afternoon.  So, I had breakfast in the hotel (in Portugal, breakfast (and a nice one at that) is always included in the price of the hotel)) and headed out exploring.  I had been given a map with a suggested route to walk from a friend in the office, so I figured I'd try it.  The sun was shining, and it was in the 80's, a perfect day.  Lisbon is really a great city - it's doesn't get nearly the credit as a European vacation destination that it deserves.  I walked down the Avendida de Liberdade all the way to the coast.  The walk was fantastic - I passed by every major fashion designer, the sidwalks were made up tiles arranged in light and dark grey designs.  The whole way there were boulevards with tree-lined parks down the middle of the street with orange trees and other flowering plants everywhere.  Once I got closer to the tourist areas, the sidewalks were full of tables and chairs shaded by colorful umbrellas and people having a coffee, breakfast or even a beer out in the sun.  It seemed that everyone who was walking was headed further down the street, so I followed the crowd.  Finally, I ended up in the Plaza do Comercio, which is a beautiful plaza at the end of a huge shopping district (which I did enjoy while I was there) full of street vendors selling their paintings, food, anything you could want.  So, I had a quick lunch, and did some shopping, the headed back to the hotel to get ready to meet my friends for some beach time. 

Before I go on, I have to mention how great the service was in my hotel.  After I changed into my beach clothes, I headed downstairs to have a coffee before my friends picked me up.  I ordered a cafe con leche, and got what looked like silver service for the President!  With my perfectly-made coffee (which came in it's own silver thermal carafe with steamed milk in a matching silver carafe) came every possible thing one could imagine would go in coffee - all on silver service.  There were at least 3 different kinds of rock-sugars, chocolate, cinnamon, etc... Plus, I also got 3 little petit fours in a beautiful little serving platter - in case I wanted a little someting sweet with my coffee.  In the end, the waiter wouldn't even let me pay for it (no - I was not sitting there in my bathing suit either!).  It a nice little luxurious break. 

Thomas and Claudia picked me up a few minutes later and in about 15 minutes, we were at the rocky beaches of Lisbon.  It was really a novelty for me to see the Atlantic Ocean from the other side.  Although since we were on sort of a gulf, the waters were much calmer and bluer than they typically are in say, Miami.  But other than the occasional topless female sunbather, the day at the beach was fun, relaxing, but not terribly different from any other beach in the world. However, with my travel schedule lately, I really need that day of sun and relaxation.

When I got back to my hotel, I asked the concierge to recommend a place for dinner.  He suggested a traditional Portuguese restaurat in the Barrio Alto (a very nice neighborhood in one of the highest point in Lisbon) called Lisboa Nichte (Lisbon Night).  I made an 8pm reservation (which, by the way, was so nice since in Madrid no one eats until 10pm!), and after getting appropriately "gussied" for the evening, I headed down to the bar to have a cocktail before heading to dinner. Again, the bartenders were very friendly and went out of their way to accomodate not only me, but everyone there.  That night was the opening game of the EuroCup - during which Portugal was to play Turkey.  The bar was full of fans (of both teams) and everyone was getting ready to head out to watch the game (which was being played in Austria). I figured if I could have dinner during the game, then get back to the hotel before too late, it would be in my best interest since I had heard that if Portugal won, the streets would be full of people celebrating and traffic would be gridlocked. 

The cab driver (after getting lost 3 times - in his own city) finally found the restaurant.  I have to point out that several times he had to hold his side view mirrors in to keep from scraping them against the walls of the very narrow streets.  Barrio Alto was gorgeous - especially at that time of the night.  You could see the ocean in the distance as well as the rest of Lisbon.  It was up on a hill, and at sunset, I wish I had had the time to take a picture.  The restaurant was great, although I never really get used to dining at a "table for 1".  Although, as I was sitting there, a guy walks in the door of the restaurant, comes up to me, and with a Spanish accent says, "You work for Coca-Cola, right?".  I couldn't believe it, but apparently, this gentlemen (who I didn't recognize) was walking  by the restaurant, saw me sitting in the window and recognized me from the Madrid office. He was vacationing in Lisbon for the weekend as well, and stopped in to say hello.  Those are the kind of things that happen to me and even though I am usually solo, it seems that I am never alone.  By the way, the food was outstanding.  I had the grilled filet of sole, and some "house specialty" dessert which was heaven on earth.  Having throroughly stuffed myself, I caught a cab back to the hotel.  And it was perfect timing too because in the cab I had heard that Portugal had won the game 2-0.  Every car horn was honking and the streets were full of partiers.  By the time I got back to my hotel, the bar was full.  And - even better - there was a little old man (portugese) sitting in a tuxedo playing the piano in the bar.  It reminded me so much of the days in Atlanta at the Four Seasons Lounge when (the late) Dale would play all night while my friends and I sang along.  I hung out in that crowded bar for a few hours, and finally went up to my room for the night.  It was really fun.

Since my flight didn't leave until 6pm on Sunday night, I had the whole day to sightsee.  So, I bought a ticket to the double decker bus tour and enjoyed most of the rest of the day sitting in the sun, enjoying being shuttled around to last few places that I had not yet seen.  The most of amazing of which was the Expo area.  As much Lisbon is old and historic, the Expo area is brand spankin' new.  The largest aquarium in Europe (so they say) is there, right on the water, and all around are brand new apartments, condos, office buildings.  As much a I have to say it was very nice and clean looking - you'd never know you were in Europe.  I would have thought I was in Overland Park, Kansas if it weren't for the view of the water. 

After having a little lunch and enjoying the rest of the tour, I went back to my hotel and caught a cab to the airport.  All in all, TAP airlines (a Portugese airline) was the best flight experience I've had yet from Spain.  The flight got in early, and my luggage was there before I was (which I know has nothing to do with the airline).  I was back at my apartment before 9pm.  Unfortunately, the hot, sunny weather of Lisbon was replaced by the 60's temps and rain in Madrid - but who cares - tomorrow was Monday.

See you all soon!
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