Lisbon 16th Feb 2024

February in Skillinge has been windy and wetter than normal. At this time of year, I long for a change of scenery and even more for the sun on my face. We decided Lisbon might be warm and diverting even in February. I did not sleep well the night before we left. I have the fourth and final book in the Skillinge series at that trying stage of being finished in principle but needing to be re-read to check coherency and grammar. At the same time, Signe, the orphan heroine of my fifth book, is fighting to gain my attention. She wakes me at night to recount more of her remarkable story.

Friday 16th Feb: We took the bus to Ystad and then the train. A man sat with a beer can and was rebuked by the train guard. No drinking alcohol allowed on the train. He managed to take quite a few glugs from a collection of small spirit bottles when she was not looking. Thank goodness my alcohol habit has not extended down to breakfast. Skånetrafiken delivered us without a hitch to Kastrup, where we met Petter, who was on his way to The Gambia. Our direct flight left a little delayed and landed finally just 10 minutes behind schedule-

The Taxi we ordered to meet us at the airport was difficult to find but quite OK when it finally arrived. Our apartment is in the middle of the restaurant and nightlife area, so it was a good choice. Tonight’s dinner was Cod and Salmon done in the local style. Not a bad start to the holiday.

Saturday 17th Feb: Our apartment is modern and well equipped; the bed is spacious and, after a one-night test, comfortable. After breakfast, we wandered to the market, which had a section for food and a new modern part with restaurants down each side. You can pick and choose from a wide range of offers and then enjoy them in the seating area. After, we wandered up and down the tourist pedestrian streets. Small old-fashioned trams, tuk-tuk-like taxis and a range of people in all shapes and sizes give a sensory input that could be overwhelming. The sun shone on us. Lunch was a cod and cheese croquette with a glass of port.

In the afternoon, we took a funicular up to high in the town and saw people gathered at a bar with a view, drinking cocktails in the sun. We walked down through back streets to the Time Out market, which was crowded. We found a place outside and watched small children and their parents playing on some swings and slides. Small beings needed to be rescued regularly as they wobbled potentially in front of a high-speed swing.

Dinner was in a small restaurant run by a male flirt. He paid copious attention to his lady customers, serenading them with a guitar, mouth organ and an accordion. His son commanded a more positive reception. He was handsome, quite spoken and effective as a waiter.

Sunday 18th: We caught the train to Cascais, which was crowded. In front of us was a young mother who displayed abundant, calm and competent love for her little baby. She succeeded in discretely breastfeeding the little girl. Cascais is a fine seaside town with obvious attractions for foreign and local tourists. It also has very little graffiti, which is not true of central Lisbon. We ate in a little restaurant outside in the sun. We walked along the coastal promenade back to Estoril, which is about 4 kilometres. The beach was full of sunbathers and people playing forms of Beach ball. Not many were in the sea. From Estoril, we took the train back to Lisbon.

We had dinner in a wine bar. The waitress was not in a good mood, but the environment was stylish, and the food was great.

Monday 18th: We got up early and bought one-day bus, metro and tram tickets. We took the metro to Martin Moniz and caught the 28 tram. It took us for a ride that would be worthy of Disney World through narrow streets and up and down what seemed perilous inclines. From the tram’s endpoint, we took two buses down to Belem. After a wander by the sea, we took the 19 tram back to central Lisbon for a beer and fish croquette eaten in the sun. It was circa 21c when we retired to our apartment.

Dinner was at By the Wine. The irritable waitress was not on duty, and the food and wine were excellent. Prawns with garlic and chillies, Veal croquettes and a cheese and ham board were very much to our taste.

Tuesday 20th: After a relaxed breakfast, we took the train to Cascais. After lunch, we lay on the beach for a couple of hours. It was pleasantly in the low twenties. Some young French boys were playing football, and a wayward ball hit Anna.  I was forced to use some English expletives that did not help the Entente Cordiale. They left the beach.

This evening, we returned to the flirt bar. He was more subdued today. Perhaps his wife or daughter were also working this evening, or he is manic depressive, and it was a low day. The wine was superb, Qalt and the food was excellent. We sat at the bar and observed all the behind-the-scenes activities. A guitarist arrived who sang with a bad English accent but played quite well. You cannot have everything, I suppose.

Wednesday 21st: We wandered in the Alfama area today. We climbed steep steps, took elevator rides and reached about as high in Alfama as we could get. We had coffee and ate pastel de nata at  Pastelaria Santo Antonio. The custard tarts were delicious but difficult to eat without getting sticky fingers. We took lunch in Time Out, which, even at a few minutes to midday, was almost full.

In the afternoon, we wandered in the Bairro Alto area. We are getting used to the vertical challenges of Lisbon. There were lots of small shops selling everything from plastic bath ducks to socks. In a hilly town, having a local food shop must be precious. We found a fire station that was forced to park its fire engines on the street, a lavishly ornate church and a restaurant that served a simple but excellent sirloin. The sound of Lisbon, for me, will be the metallic scraping of trams against metal rails as they navigate the curves.

Thursday 22nd: Today, we took the train From Rossio to Sintra. It had rained overnight, so the walk to the train station was a little damp. The journey to Sintra was dismal. Everything in sight was covered in graffiti, and in some places, ill-maintained apartment blocks were covered up to the 2nd floor. At Sintra, we were bombarded with offers for sightseeing tours in all kinds of vehicles. The attractions, castles and Palaces are up high on a hill, so we took a sightseeing bus. The way up was steep, narrow and busy with traffic. It had begun to rain again and wet sightseers queued to hop off and on the bus. We decided not to get off at all and returned to the area near the station to find something to eat. What we found was tourist mediocre. Sin on Sintra.

Dinner was in the same bar as last night. They welcomed us like old friends. We were in the American corner. A lady who sat beside me conducted a long monologue with another couple who were seriously delayed in consuming their food due to conspicuous politeness.

Friday 23rd: Our apartment block has two entrances one in each of parallel streets. The lift takes you to 0 for one of them and -2 for the other.  Today we bought one day transport cards and bus surfed. We took a bus here and then one there without any particular aim. We ended up on tram 24. We passed Jamie Oliver’s and then a Michelin-star restaurant. We hopped off and found a Tapas bar with a ridiculously high-priced wine list. We managed to escape with our shirts on. We wandered down to our apartment, looking for a Fado restaurant for the evening.

The cosy Fado restaurant was good. Emotionally charges singing and guitar playing. The food and wine was excellent. The small bar is driven by Rita, who manages it with decisive words and actions. It was a good experience and one we may repeat before we leave.

Saturday 24th: We were uncertain whether to make an excursion south today. The weather decided for us when it began to rain and blow quite hard. We found where the boat would go from but declined to board it, fearing another Sintra experience. In between showers and sunshine, we wandered again in the Alfama district. It was crowded with locals and tourists. Our lunch restaurant was outside under a substantial parasol. The kitchen was on the other side of the road, which hosted two-way traffic and trams. To be a waiter here you needed a sixth sense. We found an open-air market and a couple of large churches, which were convenient for avoiding the rain. We reflected that we had not seen any rollators or electric wheelchairs. They simply would not function in this delightfully crazy town.

It was back to our favourite bar tonight. I tried to book for next Tuesday because it is Anna’s birthday. They do not normally take bookings, so let us hope they do it for us. When we left, there was a queue of at least 10 people waiting to come in.

Sunday 25th: We took it easy today and only ventured out to eat. We found a small restaurant in Bairro Alto. Five young American women joined us and proceeded to talk using like as every second word. They may have been intelligent people, but with the “like” speech defect, they sounded stupid.

For dinner, by accident, we found a high-class restaurant near our apartment. Gambas al Ajillo, paté de fois gras and a duck salad were expensively consumed.

Monday 26th: We took the boat from Terreiro do Paco to Barreiro and then the train to Setubal. On the way, we saw a little of the surrounding countryside. We passed from dreary apartment blocks to small wine groves,  cattle farms and back again. We asked at the library what was worth seeing in Sebutal. One lady did not speak English, and the man just shrugged his shoulders. We did find a couple of impressive churches and decorated narrow shopping streets. Had there been a carnival?

Lunch was in a popular restaurant. The day’s dish, which everyone seemed to choose, was a thin slice of pork with a steaked egg and chips covered in a warm salad-like dressing. We ate it out of curiosity but are unlikely to repeat the experience.

Dinner was back to Vicente for a steak and then a glass of wine in our local bar.

Tuesday 27th: It was Anna’s birthday today. We drank a little champagne with an omelette for a late breakfast. It was a sunny day, so we wandered out with the aim of going up to a bar with a view. We missed the funicular and walked the whole way up. An Aperol was consumed. We wandered back down and ate a cod croquette and a glass of port.

Dinner this evening was in Grau Douro Tapas & Wine Bar. It is without doubt our favourite place in Lisbon. Great food, very friendly and relaxed staff, and the owner sang happy birthday to Anna whilst playing his accordion. It was a great evening.

Wednesday 28th: We took tram 28 from beginning to end and back again. Then we took lunch in the sun at a locals restaurant, followed by coffee, watching the tourists from P&O’s cruise ship Iona returning to the ship before their departure for Southampton.

Dinner was at the Fado restaurant.  Excellent sardines on toast and then long-cooked pork accompanied by a good Portuguese red wine.

Thursday 29th: Tomorrow, we leave for Sweden at a ridiculously early hour. Today will be packing and wandering in the sun somewhere. It is streaming through our window, inviting us to come and play.

We wandered into areas we had not been to earlier and saw things we had missed, such as the changing of the guard at the seat of the Parliament, Palacio de Sao Bento.

Now, our Lisbon trip is nearly over. It has been well worth it. Lisbon is a crazy, beautiful city.