2016 European Tour, Day 3: Lisbon: The Tour, the Tower, the Castle, and Dinner

Tuesday 4 October. We had an extensive breakfast buffet at the hotel to get started. I mentioned last time the cocktail stand at the giant food court– We’ve also seen various cocktail kiosks along the riverfront and the avenue near our hotel. Gin and tonic to go! Never seen such things in other European cities, let alone in the US. At the breakfast buffet in the hotel, there was a bottle of sparkling wine, and champagne flutes, for the taking, along with the usual spread of cold cuts, scrambled eggs, pastries, and juices.

It’s a tourism cliche, but taking a bus tour is actually a decent way to get an idea of the layout of an unfamiliar city, I think. We took a Yellow Bus tour, the kind where your ticket is good for 48 hours and you can get off and on any bus along a particular route as often as you like. Our route took us north of the Avenida where we’re staying, past various museums, department stores, government facilities, and parks, then eventually westward along the river to the Belém Tower, a 16th century tower built as a fortification at the mouth of the Tagus River. We climbed narrow spiral staircases to the top level.

Leaving the tour bus around 4pm, we headed up into the windy streets of the Alfama district, in search of the brown castle we could see from the avenue below. It was tricky to find, since the iPhone maps failed in the hills; eventually we just followed the other tourists. The Castelo de São Jorge was built in the 11th century during a time when the city was run by the Moors, or Arabs (depending on which plaque you read), and the site has been occupied as far back as 600 BC. It’s the most castly castle I ever remember being in, complete with turrets and ramparts and steep stone steps and inner, now empty, courtyards. There is also a museum of artifacts there, some gardens, and a closed archaeological site.

The final highlight of the day was to venture west from our avenue back into the Bairro Alto, another older area of tiny narrow streets (though not so windy as in Alfama), packed with dozens of bars and restaurants with seating outside on the cobblestones. We tracked down a place called Põe-Te Na Bicha, a tiny place with red walls in a building whose interior stone arches suggested a long history. The place was still half empty, but apparently reserved, when we finished at 9:30, which reminds me of another general observation about Lisbon: late to rise, late to lunch, late to dine, apparently.

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