Was a long day - headed to Newark airport early as I wasn´t sure how long it would take via train from Penn Station..actually only took 30 minutes, much faster than I thought it would. Flight was at 8pm on Friday and got in at 9am on Saturday...tough to sleep on the airplane so was a little tired when I got in. I didn't actually have a place to stay on my first night as three different hostels where booked solid and I couldn't find a cheap hotel online before I left. Instead I booked my remaining days at the Lisbon Lounge Hostel and figured I would chance it when I got there.
Tourism Office at the airport offered free hotel reservations and it took awhile to find a place as the first five places the guy called where full up. He wasn't sure why as it was not peak tourism season and there was no major convention / event in town....eventually he found a place for €40 for the night...not too bad for a hotel and better than the streets. He also sold me a two day Lisboa Card, good for unlimited use of most museums, attractions and transit for two days. I paid €26 for that.
Hotel was pretty easy to find, even though I was taking public transit (for free, thanks to the Lisboa Card!). Got in around 10:30am and figured I would shower and hit a couple museums that looked interesting. Got into the room, hit the bed and woke up at 4:30pm. Not sure exactly what happened there. I was out. Since 90% of the attractions and museums closed at 5pm and the other 10% at 6pm I was about to waste 50% of my Lisboa Card. So I quickly showered, found one attraction I wanted to see that was open until 6pm and was on my way.
Was trying to go to the Chiado Museum (Contemporary Art) which closed at 6pm so I figured I could make it. Unfortunately Lisbon has a lot of small streets with large hills that are not in any kind of symmetrical order...very confusing at first. Even with a map and a good understanding of where I needed to go, I got turned around as I was beside my point of reference, a hospital, just on the wrong side of it. So, when I finally got to the museum, at 5:40, I was turned away at the door since they don't allow any more entrances after 5:30. Frustrating. Instead, I
spent the day walking around Lisbon center & riding a few trams/streetcars with my Lisboa Card.
Next day I was able to head to the hostel, which was rated top ten in Europe. Very nice...right in the center of town plus free internet and cheap beer in the lounge. I was determined to get some use out of the Lisboa Card and went to the Chiado Museum...was interesting but three exhibition halls where closed so only the exhibition featuring Columbano was open...plus the regular entrance fee was only €3. This plus another venue I went to 'saved' me €8...for a cost of €26...I figured even with the transit I used maybe €13 of the card, which after today would no longer be valid. terrible.
The other venue I went to was the Santa Justa Elevator, built at the turn of the century...it's a 145 elevator to...well, an observation deck and cafe actually. Mystery solved. Lisbon is a very interesting city - one of the oldest capitals in Europe and very much holding on to its past history as a major world superpower, when it ruled the seas and had colonies in China, Brazil, India & Africa.
A major earthquake destroyed most of the city in 1755 (save for a few historic venues in areas like Belem, just outside the city center) and the city was rebuilt at that time.
A lot of the buildings in Lisbon, especially the city center, can be dated back to this major rebuild and redevelopment of the city just after 1755, which gives the entire city a unique look.
I spent a lot of my time just hanging out doing a lot of nothing. This was the first stop I´d had on my trip where the pace of the city was more relaxed and laid back. Lots of great cafes to sit and have a cerveja or two...or three.
On one of my last days in Lisbon I headed out to Belem, a quick trip by commuter train (maybe 10 or 15 minutes) just outside of the central Lisbon area. Belem is filled with all sorts of museums, squares, parks and riverfront cafes. Two impressive places in Belem that I did go to included the Tower of Belem & Jerónimos Monastery - both built in the early 1500s and both very much still standing today...although
the Tower of Belem is now a tourist attraction and no longer a fortress, prison or customs house.
Jerónimos Monastery was equally impressive and is still used as a church so flash photography could not be used. I took a few pictures inside but it appears they did not turn out as a result. The Monastery took fifty years to complete and was built grand as Portugal was in the midst of vast wealth during this time from the India spice trade.
I really enjoyed Lisbon - very laid back and good for relaxation with lots of history to be seen wherever you looked.
The town feels small despite the fact that the greater Lisbon area has a population of around 2.6million and the central district where I spent most of my time has around 600,000 people, rather large by Canadian standards but it did fell much smaller than Calgary, which has a population of around a million.