Monday, March 21, 2011

A Quick Weekend in Lisbon, Portugal

The kids had a long weekend this weekend due to parent/teacher conferences so we decided to take the opportunity to start our crazy 6 months of travel in Lisbon, Portugal. Just a short 1 1/2 hour flight from Barcelona, it was easy to get to and we knew we could see a lot in just 2 1/2 days.  As I type this out I realized too late that I probably should have split this into at least two entries so I apologize in advance as this is a long one!!  But long with pictures, not words, I promise!

View of Sesimbra on the peninsula just south of Lisbon as we come in for a landing

Our flight got in just after dinner time on Thursday night. So we just headed to the hotel to get comfortable and get a good night's sleep in order to be ready for a full day of sightseeing on Friday. The kids loved the hotel which wasn't too far from the airport nor the center of the city. And because there were 4 of us, we had no choice (according to the hotel) but to upgrade to the executive area which had some nice perks, one of which was having it's own lounge and consierge...not to mention being on the 21st floor which the kids loved! I will say, the Corinthia Lisboa was fantastic... nice hotel with fabulous service! Since it was late and the kids hadn't eaten we let them order room service - a perk they haven't had much of. They loved room service! Aidan's favorite - strawberry soup!

Liam hasn't slept in a crib in 2 years... and yet was super excited when he found out the hotel had left a crib in our room, apparently figuring most almost 4 year olds sleep in them????  We put down the railing and made it a toddler bed but he was still thrilled!

As we drove in on Thursday night it was hard to get a full view of the city since it was already dark, but you could tell right away that the city was more modern in appearance than Barcelona.  The buildings were taller (I don't think there are any 21 story hotels or buildings in Barcelona!).  However, by far Barcelona is much much cleaner.  Lisbon felt run down to me.  Grafitti was everywhere and yes, we have grafitti in Barcelona but not to this extent.  Barcelona power washes their buildings, their street signs, everything... all the time.  I've even seen them power washing the dumpsters along the street, yes, they are that clean!  So other cities, by comparison, often come up short but by far, I'd say Lisbon got the short end of the stick as far as maintenance.

That being said, this is a city with a lot of character. Destroyed by an earthquake in the 1700s they rebuilt and while by European standards, they are in a way a new city, it still has beauty unlike other places I've been. There is a ton of grassy areas and trees along many of the streets. The city rests upon hills that give Barcelona a run for its money! At least in BCN for the most part, the hill is one straight up hill - here in Lisbon, every street is like it's own individual hill! And the sidewalks in Lisbon were all done in pavers, some decorated rather intricately. Not stroller friendly for sure, but definitely gives you that old world feel!

Intricate designs made of stones on the sidewalks

Friday morning we hit the road running!  We decided that the top attraction for us was the Castelo Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle).  Believe it or not, in our time in Europe, the kids have not actually been inside a castle yet.  They've driven by them and seen them from the highway, but they had not actually gone to a legitamite one.   
Aidan walking from the metro towards where we "think" the castle will be

And then giving up and hopping on Josh's shoulders

Liam is the navigator... the castle is "here" he points

The castle from a distance... must go uphill to get to it...hmmmm

View of one of the beautiful streets in Lisbon

We saw a lot of shoeshining people along our way... Aidan really liked this (and shined his sneakers at the hotel!)

Statue of Dom Joao I, Praca da Figueira

The castle overlooks the city and while its obvious where it is located, the route to get there is not.  As I searched my guide book and the map I couldn't figure out how to get up on the hill to the castle.  Finally when we stopped at a vendor for some lollipops, I asked and he told us to take the #28 tram.  Now, the #28 was mentioned in our guidebook several times, but never said that it would take you to the castle, a primary tourist attraction - Frommer's take note!  I had wanted to take this infamous #28 tram so we killed two birds with one stone and hopped on. 

Eating their Chupa Chups while waiting for the tram

Liam on the tram

Aidan on the tram - all smiles!

This was not our first time on a tram and we have a few in Barcelona that we've been on.  But never have I been on a tram that takes you down such tiny, narrow streets!!  I'm amazed at how well they navigate and was shocked that no cars were taken out during the process of taking some tight corners!! 

One of the really narrow streets the tram went down!

We finally made it to the top of the Alfama Hill and were greeted by an amazing view of the city and the Tagus River.  We stopped for a quick snack and walked uphill for just a little longer to the Castelo Sao Jorge. 
Aidan perched on a statue at the top of the hill

View from the top of the hill

All smiles again - can this be possible?

Tram # 28!

Liam doesn't want his picture taken

Quick snack before going to the castle

Having a little snuggle... someone is tired already!

View from a different angle

I think this was his second time getting a shoulder ride today - lucky kid!!

Although the first fortifications on this Lisbon hilltop are known to be no older than the second century BC, this castle is more modern.  During the early 16th century, a new castle was being built by the river and the old castle began to lose importance. An earthquake in 1531 damaged the castle, and this only contributed to further decay and neglect. According to Wikipedia, in 1569, King Sebastian ordered the rebuilding of the royal apartments in the castle of São Jorge, because he intended to use it as his residence. However, this project was never completed. Starting in 1580 the castle was used as a barracks and a prison.  The great 1755 Lisbon earthquake severely damaged the castle and contributed to its degradation. However, finally in the 1940s renovation was begun and the site became a big tourist attraction for Lisbon.
Walking up to the castle I saw someone point to this... I got a really bad angle but if you look above the black metal piece (which says Urinal on it), you'll see the image of a boy peeing. The actual urinal below was just a piece of metal around a corner so if you have to pee you can do it in "private"... Aidan, of course, had to take advantage... all I can say is GROSS!
Aidan standing outside one of the touristy stores by the castle

Next to the "bottle" of Madeira

Castle wall and entrance to the castle grounds

Done with walking!

View from the castle grounds

Boys so not impressed

Self portrait :)

Liam likes the cannons!

Ta Da!

What's in here???

A smaller version

Boys and their toys

Aidan outside the castle making sure it's protected from pirates (because according to him, that is who would attack the castle)

He's a little too close to the edge if you ask me...

View of the castle walls

Loved the flowers on the castle grounds

Liam the Lion!!!  Roar!!

Bridge to the inside of the castle

Look!  It's a Liam sized cannon... he was actually making shooting noises as he sat there.  He told me he was shooting at the Super Mario bad guys

Castle walls

Different view of the wall

They heard noise when they walked in the door but were unsure about investigating

It was this guy playing his flute

Aidan inspecting some items for sale - of course he wanted one but where do you keep a cement lion head?

Looking to see if there was any water in the well

A is for Aidan!

Running along the turrets

Fascinated that this where the knights would protect the castles with their bows and arrows

Hanging over the top...yeah that made me nervous

From the distance you might be able to see Josh and Liam on the top right

In case you couldn't here is a close up (but needed the other pic for the height perspective!)

After enjoying our trip to the castle, we hopped back on the #28 tram to head downhill towards the water. It was there that we ended up at Cafe Martinho da Arcada, a 200 year old restaurant, where we ended up having a fabulous lunch!

Aidan and I on the tram

Liam and Josh on the tram

I think he does this just because he know it gives me the creeps...this was after he sucked the meat out of the head

As you can imagine, the kids were absolute troopers to have even made it this far during the day.  So we decided to head back to the metro to go to the hotel.  On the way we walked thru the Praca de Comercio, a beautiful square where we enjoyed a street performance (we always love to stop at these!). 

Arco do Triunfo in Praca de Comercio... I'm beginning to see a trend in every city we visit.

Street performers

Sleepy baby

Trying roasted chestnuts for the first time...not a fan.  Yes, he'll suck the head out of the shrimp but won't eat the chestnuts.  Strange kid!

At the last minute we decided to get off the metro near the Botanical Gardens.  There was supposed to be a butterfly house that I really thought the kids would enjoy.  The directions looked simple enough - get off the metro and the entrance should be just around the corner.  Ohhhh much easier said than done Mr Mapmaker!  We asked for directions and it seemed we were in the right spot but it was rather disappointing.  That would be because it wasn't the botanical gardens.

This is the park that is not the botanical gardens but Aidan really liked this tree

VERY steep street... good thing they don't get snow here!

To get to the gardens we had to go just a teeney bit further, thereby pushing the kids, mainly Aidan who was walking, just a bit more... he wasn't happy to say the least. We get to the entrance and it's... closed. Yup, closed. By the way, we walked straight up hill on cobblestones to get to that entrance. There was a guy that said the other entrance was just around the corner... so off we go again. We get to where we think is the entrance and we can smell the perfume of the flowers but turns out it's an apartment complex that abuts the gardens but doesn't actually access them. Strike 2. We finally go what must have been to the other side (the side of course closest to the metro but having walked the entire perimeter of the garden at this point and coming full circle) and found the entrance. We go in and it's beautiful. Green and lush and smells beautiful.

And I'm dying to see the butterflies. Aidan just sits on a bench and refuses at this point. He's done. So Josh stays with him and I take Liam. We walk down to the Butterfly House and... yup, you guessed it... it's closed. Til March 21st (today). Missed it by just 3 days. Seriously. All that for nothing. But hey, we got some exercise.

Ahhhh now we have arrived at the Botanical Gardens after a long journey to get here

What butterflies this way??  You don't say!  Oh but you don't say that they aren't open today!  Grrr!

Liam finds a pinecone that had to stay with us for the rest of the trip

A unicorn

Cool tree with bell type flowers

Josh has taught Aidan to draw a pee line... ahhh the joys of boys (and no he didn't pee right there)

Very cool tree

Back to the hotel we went via taxi that time!  Josh went for a great massage that night while I stayed in with the kids.  We were all in bed pretty early after such a long day of walking and sightseeing!

On Saturday we decided to give the kids feet some rest and opted to take the double decker bus tour.  Josh and I have found these to be a good way to get an overview of the city when you have limited time and/or small kids that don't want to do it all.  It was a beautiful day, around 70, so we decided to ride on the top level.   The city feels very run down in many places and the tour didn't highlight many historical sites. However the riverfront was quite bustling with the aquarium and science museum. We did the full circle on the tour and then went back to the aquarium.

Buildings that I liked while driving along the tour

And more I liked

One more

I liked that this was a bit of out with the old and in with the new... a nice combo

Cable cars down at the Parque das Nacoes

Look at the top floor of windows - do you think this would be allowed in the US?  Probably not... somehow lounging on the ledge would be considered a suicide attempt or something

By now it was lunch time so we looked in our guidebook for the riverfront area and saw we were really close to the Buffalo Brazilian Grill. The kids loved that they came to our table with skewers of meat. Aidan out ate all of us!!

Buffalo Grill on the water

Finally it was time for the much anticipated aquarium.  My kids love the aquarium!  And this one was no different than the rest - they raced thru it.  I didn't see much here that I couldn't see at other aquariums but that's ok - it was all good and they had fun. 

The boys with the mascot of the Lisbon Aquarium

Nurse sharks

Liam "listening" to the audio

Mom look at this!

So cute!!!!

Is Guy Fieri in the house?

After the aquarium we went outside to the pavillion area, called the Parque das Nacoes.  This area had great peddle go-kart rentals that Liam and Aidan were dying to ride... mainly Liam.  And you can imagine his disappointment when they didn't have any in his size.  So Aidan got to ride the go-kart while Liam screamed.  Finally Josh decided to take Liam on the cable car nearby as something special to do with him. 

Soooo excited to do the go-kart

People were riding them all over the pavillion

Aidan showing off his Mario Kart shirt while riding on a kart!

Josh and Liam waving from the cable car

However, on the way to "drop off" Liam and Josh at the cable car, Aidan spied something that caught his attention.  GRASS!!  Green, lush grass.  My kids have not played in grass since we were in Provence this past October.  And before that was August when we were home.  There is little grass here in Barcelona and what little there is, is not to be walked or played on... it's mainly where the dogs poop so even if they could, I probably wouldn't let them.  So you can imagine Aidan's excitement when he saw this green grass that everyone was playing on.  We returned the go-kart immediately and raced back to the park to play.  He ran, did grass angels, somersaults, and anything else he could think of... and then Liam came back and joined him.  The ran and rolled and played til they both literally felt ill.  I think that's the sign of a good time!

Doing flips in the grass within moments

Rolling around

I'm sooooo HAPPY!!!!!!!!

Grass angels

Stalking his prey


Now Liam joins the fray

Run run run!

Wrestling... at least for once this is the right time and the right place!

I love grass too!!

Running some more!

This area was cool - little mounds that almost were set up like a target - they liked rolling over them

On the way back to a cab there was a water feature... of course all three of them ended up running thru it

And it's the sign that it was time to go back to the hotel.  One more day gone and only half a day left to go.  Sunday was Josh's birthday which unfortunately started off with him getting a case of food poisoning from the mussels he ate the night before.  Poor Josh!!  I felt terrible for him spending his birthday essentially in misery.  As promised we took the kids to the zoo which was a 5 minute walk from our hotel.  We only had a few hours before we had to leave for the airport so it was the perfect way to end a great vacation! 

Look at that!

A baby rhino!

Checking out the map - where should we go?

The seals - so cute!

Awwww, father and son

And brotherly love with a pinch

Beautiful peacock

It's a new species - Aidan turtle!

And a Liam turtle!

The first time I've seen a koala... I wish he hadn't been hiding his face though :(

Josh and Aidan with the birds - Josh wants one soooo badly.  He's not getting one... Liam had no interest in having this picture taken UNTIL it was time to leave and we had to go pay for it.  Then of course he wanted one... sorry pal!

So while Lisbon wasn't on my top list of must return to cities, we had an amazing time as a family.  Everyone got along and had a great time.  Next up, visitors from home!!  Becky and Ray are coming out to see us at the end of this week so we'll have lots of blog entries to follow!!


1 comment:

  1. I love the pics and the commentary. John and I walked right by that zoo on the way to the train when we visited Lisbon. Sooooooooooooooooo jealous!