Chapter Four: Crisscrossing Lisbon
Day Four: Justa Wrong Way To Go, Escalators To Heaven, Carmelite Treasure, Don’t Judge A Church By Its Cover, Tuk-ered Out, Timing Is Everything, Banana Appeal, A Date With El Bosco, The Temptations, The Old Ones At “The Old Ones” and Mary’s New Boyfriend
As the sun rose high over Lisbon, and we were out early to explore more of the city’s historic sights. Our first stop was the Convento da Ordem do Carmo (Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel), where I thought it would be fun to take the Elevador de Santa Justa up to near where the convent is located.
We’d have to walk. It was then I remembered a tip from a fellow Fodor’s travel board member, Maribel, who had written on various ways to avoid the uphill walk. And Maribel should know. Her Destinations With Maribel website has an abundance of information on Portugal, Spain and France, and she even customizes tours. Perhaps she should add a chapter on counting steps outside a metro station.
There are about a million steps (give or take a few) to get from the Baixa neighborhood to the Chiado area. However, Maribel shared a shortcut hack that could save lots and lots of those stairs (not to mention my knees). She recommended going to the Baixa-Chiado metro station and taking a series of escalators to the top. Entering the metro station, we must have looked confused (that happens a lot) because a woman asked what we were looking for. I told her the escalators up to Chiado, and she took us under her wing and began speed walking to where the escalators were located. I told you the people in Lisbon are friendly. We started our journey upwards.
The first two escalators worked to perfection. The only fly in the ointment was that the third escalator was out of order, but after walking up that flight of stairs, the last one was in working order.
I spotted the famed #28 tram coming our direction. “We should hop on this at some point,” I said. As it approached, we thought better of it as I harkened back to those packed sardines we saw on the first day.
Like so many other Lisbon buildings, the church, built between 1389 and 1423, was demolished during the earthquake on All Saints’ Day in 1755. It had once been considered among Lisbon’s “most distinguished” churches.
Only the chancel remains of The Church of Santa Maria do Carmo, which houses the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo, containing cool tombs and some other (some macabre) items.
We wandered the ruins for a short time.
I came across the saint who double-crossed me in Prague in 2008, St. John of Nepomuk, who was thrown off the Charles Bridge drowning in 1393 (I took this photo of him in 2008).
He is the “Patron Saint of Bridges,” and the legend promises that if you touch his statue on the Charles Bridge your wish will come true within one year and one day. I wished that our cat would be alive when we got home but he died a few days before our return. So much for legends and wishes. We took St. John’s photo at the convent, but I had nothing nice to say to him.
On the capstone is this cool relief. Sally Field would be proud.
The walls are lined with historic figurative blue azulejos, including one of my good friend, Archangel Michael, who seems to travel with me wherever I go. I definitely need protection from myself.
In the library are two mummies from Peru that date as far back as 1,000 years. I couldn’t get a photo with all the people around them, but found this on the internet.
As much as we love ceilings, it seems ancient light fixtures have become fixtures in our photo taking.
There is also an interesting and informative video on the history on the convent.
We exited onto the historic Largo do Carmo, a beautiful square covered with trees originally from South America. In the center of the square is Chafariz do Carmo, a baroque fountain constructed in 1771. It once brought water in to Lisbon from the Águas Livres Aqueduct through an underground tunnel.
As we walked by the restaurant we had planned to dine at on our second night in Lisbon, Tracy and Mary asked if they could peek inside at the menu and restaurant, but were told (rather rudely) to look at the one on the side of the building. I now didn’t feel so bad for not dining there.
Next to the Igreja-Museu São Roque is a statue of Padre António Vieira, who was (according to never in doubt and sometimes correct Wikipedia) a “Portuguese Jesuit philosopher and writer, the prince of Catholic pulpit-orators of his time.”
You would never know by its rather unassuming exterior, but Igreja São Roque has an extraordinary interior. Wow!
Its 16th-century painted wooden ceiling had us once again looking up.
The last chapel on the left before the altar is the exquisite 18th-century Capela de São João Baptista (Chapel of St. John the Baptist). The most famous of all the chapels, it was designed and made in Rome, complete with mosaics and rare stones that replicate oil paintings.
The Altar Of The Holy Martyrs dates to the end of the 16th century.
There are two paintings depicting the life of Saint Francis Xavier by José Avelar Rebelo, the royal painter of King João IV, in the chapel named after the saint.
The Sacristy of the church is reminiscent of an art gallery with three rows of paintings and a magnificent chest of drawers on either side.
All the altars (including the main one) and chapels were quite amazing.
I don’t know which chapel this is… It must have been all those floating heads and cherubs.
The Chapel of St. Roch is from the 16th century.
All in all, a pretty remarkable church …
… but we decided to pass on the museum as it was a glorious day and we wanted to spend at least a little time outside before it turned scorching hot. We loved the various tiled buildings throughout Lisbon. Sure, there were also a lot of dilapidated buildings in the city, too, but these shined.
As we neared the Praça de Luís de Camões, which we had seen earlier from the distance on our walk to Carmo Convento …
… I made a quick stop at Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation. Very quick.
The Praça de Luís de Camões is a smallish square separating the Barrioa Alto and Chiado neighborhoods. We checked out the large statue of the 16th-century poet Luis de Camões.
There was one more church to visit before heading to an art museum where one of my favorite artists is featured prominently. However, the Basílica da Estrela was about a 25-minute hike from where we were, and judging by the faces of my traveling companions, especially my wife, I didn’t think walking was a wise idea. Plus, we hadn’t yet ridden in a Tuk-Tuk, a veritable “rickshaw on wheels.” We flagged down a Tuk-Tuk driver who said he would take us up to the Basílica for 5 euros per person.
I didn’t think these things traveled very fast. I was mistaken. Our “driver” zipped through the streets of Lisbon like Mario Andretti (or
more like Portugal’s Mário de Araújo Cabral). Sometimes he even looked at the road.
His non-stop chatter including pointing out landmarks and providing local history was well worth the price of admission, plus we lived to tell about it. My favorite line, “There’s Parliament. That’s where they steal our money!”
It had a lovely interior, but since a service was going on …
… we decided to grab a bite to eat and return after lunch.
We scooted across the street to Jardim da Estrela, a lovely green space that was inaugurated in 1842. Located inside the park was the Bananacafé. I had planned for us to have lunch at one of its location on Avenue da Liberdade, but my little mishap the day before meant no lunch.
Bananacafé was a winner scoring points for a fantastic burger and paninis.
Now it was back to the basilica … or not. It was 2 p.m. and it was now closed until 3 p.m. I believe that Kim and Mary surreptitiously called the church, so they would not have to endure exploring yet another house of worship. It would be a 20 minute walk, but with our stomachs full, we were up to the task. Plus, it was mostly downhill.
Once again the tiled homes and buildings enchanted …
… as we leisurely walked to Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art). We were greeted by this big guy in the foyer.
The museum had a decent crowd, so we didn’t want to take a lot of photos and get in the way, but we did catch a few things. Gustave Courbet’s Winter Landscape made us feel a little cooler on a hot day.
We entered one room, and gazing into the next saw just a frame with no painting. I flashed back to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston where an empty frame remains on display to mark one of the 13 works stolen from the museum in an art heist. This time, the empty frame was actually highlighting the ornateness of the frame.
Staying with the rather morbid theme, we saw Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist by Lucas Cranach, the Elder. We’ve seen a few of these paintings in our travels and it takes me awhile afterward to hear anything by The Platters.
A few more paintings …
… and Kim and Mary called it a day.
I wanted to check out the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora that had been closed on our second day. It really wasn’t worth the extra effort.
The Mosteiro de São Vicente de Fora is what you need to see.
Returning to the hotel in late afternoon, we put our feet up for a few seconds and then the four of us took advantage of the Hotel Guests Only On The Rooftop Tuesday.
We celebrated with some bubbly and vino …
… and enjoyed those expansive views over Lisbon.
Dinner on this evening was a four-minute walk from the hotel, however for this directionally challenged crew it took more than 15 minutes. We must be getting old. Speaking of which, our dining establishment on this night would be As Velhas (R. da Conceição da Glória 21), which literally translated means “The Old Ones.” We were right at home.
Our server Antonio was as personable as they come. He told us the restaurant had been at this location since 1925 and was opened by two sisters affectionately called “the old women.” They occupied a prominent position on the wall.
We admired the charming atmosphere and decor of As Velhas. Although there is outside seating, we sat inside under the timber beams offering a little old-school charm. Antonio was delightful throughout the evening as he and Mary became chummy.
As great as the atmosphere, the actual dinner was even better. Antonio suggested we start with the tempura green beans, which garnered a “wow” from the table. Also good was the alheira de caça, crispy game sausage made with rabbit and deer.
The main courses all shined: I absolutely loved my Bife do Lombo à Café (beef fillet with coffee sauce and fries,) which were grounds for celebration, as did Kim with his Rojões à Transmontana (roasted pork, potatoes and chestnuts with sautéed greens). My steak could not have been cooked any better. As I would find out on this trip, the beef in Portugal is excellent.
The ladies also raved about their meal. Mary opted for Bacalhau d’As Velhas (baked codfish with onion stew and crispy potatoes), while Tracy went with Bife do Lombo à ‘Marrare’ (beef fillet with black pepper sauce and fries). Mains ranged in price from €19 to €23.
Note: There was one dish that went by us several times that seemed very popular and smelled divine. Antonio told us it was the Coelho à ‘Caçador’ (rabbit with onion stew, fried potatoes & toasted bread). As Velhas vaulted to the top of our restaurants in Lisbon (of course, we’d only been here four nights) and we discussed returning the next evening. We passed on the dessert cart, but I was tempted by the lemon meringue pie.
While some people enjoyed their own balconies, we decided we’d consumed enough wine for the evening, it was time for sleep in advance of our busy day tomorrow when we’d visit a nearby district chock-full of famous attractions.
We’d start out at one of the most celebrated historic monuments in Portugal where we would also check out Vasco de Gama’s real tomb.
Then we’d head over to what is perhaps Lisbon’s most recognizable building. We would walk a short distance to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) where that darned de Gama and several other Portuguese historical figures loomed overhead. Finally, we’d check out a museum highlighting what transportation was like long before the days of Uber.
Oh, and on this evening, we’d head down to another excellent restaurant located on a delightful square for a night of al fresco dining. An Elton John greeted us and introduced me to the best gin and tonic I have ever tasted!
Chapter Five: Tell ‘Em We Love Belém!
Day Five: Manuel Labor, Get Here Early!, Boy Are They Strict, Tower Of Power, Navigating The Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Put Me In Coach, A Royal Ride, First PopeMobile?, Cranking Up The Heat, Please Let The Sun Go Down On Me & Gim Tônica Impecável