Thursday, May 31, 2018

MENU's Iberian Exploit 6. Off to Lisbon in a new chariot

Because of the burglary in Porto, our first hire car, an Opel Astra, needed to be repaired, so we were given a new car, a Renault Clio Estate, by the hire company. While it was a bit smaller inside than we had wanted (it actually had a bigger boot!), this one had SatNav which so improved our life and the trip
Quite sleek and shiny? That didn’t last because we had several major storms on the trip and they blew across from the Sahara, so the car became very muddy indeed. Still in Cape Town drought mode, we left it like that and waited for clean rain to wash it!
It was quite well washed by the end of the trip
We had to find a hotel in Lisbon very quickly as our hotel for the first night did not work out. We stopped at a service station on the way and got out the laptop. Lynne found us one on; fairly central, called Romantica, which we could afford. Lisbon is very expensive; be warned if you are going there, book well in advance. This cost €40 for the night, but that was the out-of-season rate; it is currently €60 for the double room with a very clean shared bathroom. Booking said that they had parking, but we chose to park in the street as overnight in the parking garage cost more than the room! They have turned an old commercial building into a cheap hotel. The design and space are reasonably good, except for the lifts which are on the half floors, so you do have to drag your luggage up a few stairs
Parking in the street is free for the evening but you have to move by 9 the following morning or start paying. Finding a space to park in is not easy. It turned out that we were in a loading zone but we managed not to get a ticket and did move the car early in the morning
Lynne was not feeling very well that day, so she stayed at the AirBnB we had booked, which was near the airport. John went on a tour with Joaquim Sá, Charmaine and Andrew. Joaquim was held up with a business meeting, but John was lucky enough to see the changing of the horse guards in front of the Hieronymite Monastery at Belém; rather similar to the ceremony in London and the guardsmen’s uniforms are also similar
The Monastery is one of the most popular tourist attractions. Very long queues
“You can take over now sir!”
As we said, long queues
The monument to the Discoverers at Belém which pays homage to all the famous explorers
Inside the Church of Santa Maria, next to the monastery; getting into this is easy. And worth visiting too, with soaring pillars, vaulted ceilings, marvellous stone carvings and a lovely cool hush
Then they went to the most famous bakery in Portugal. Called the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, it is said that this is where the Pasteis de Nata originated. They bake 70 thousand a day and there are huge queues here too of people who want to buy 
or just sit down with a coffee and a glass of Madeira and enjoy a pasteis 
They are extremely good, with feather light, thin, crisp and buttery pastry and perfectly set, wobbly, sweet egg custard
And then it was time for lunch. They went to a restaurant in Cascais, not far from Lisbon
Arroz de pato or Duck rice, a classic dish which we saw all over Porto, with different levels of quality. Shredded duck meat mixed in with rice which has been fried in olive oil and then cooked in duck broth. This was a good one
Sardines grilled on the fire with potatoes and a salad, topped with red pimento
Lynne was very sad to miss this dish, the one she remembers the most from her previous trip to Portugal. Cataplana, made with pork and clams; it is cooked in a wok-like pan with a lid and the dish takes its name from the pan. Here it is topped with crisp potatoes, olives, tomatoes and cheese
More juicy clams
Finally, summer came to Portugal. Our first few days were very wet and cold, much more than we had expected. This was the beach at Cascais at lunch time. A short respite; it poured next day
Designed to upset the equilibrium when you've enjoyed too much wine - perfectly flat with the illusion of channels and ridges, the tiled central plaza in Cascais. Trompe l'oeil at its best. The Portuguese and the Spanish have many of these wonderful pavements. And they seem to originate from the Romans, as we would learn later when we saw some in a museum
The town hall at Sintra, near Lisbon. John was meant to meet Joaquim and friends there (we were in separate cars), but he spent so much time driving around to try and find parking that he only had enough time to take this photograph to show that he'd been there!
He found this bathroom signage rather amusing, if a bit tasteless
The following day Lynne was feeling better, so we left the car and took the Metro into central Lisbon
Their Metro is fast, efficient and clean and covers most of the city
This is the Marquês de Pombal monument in Marquês de Pombal Square - the centre of Lisbon
Lynne thinks that this department store is just for her. Called El Corte Inglés which she translates as the Short English Person. (Yes we know it's male, and Corte doesn’t mean short, but it sounds as though it does....)
Hey, one of our favourite shops exists in Portugal. And it solved a problem for John, as he was able to buy a moderately priced lens for Lynne’s camera (his handed-down 12 year old Nikon D40 body which he had packed in his suitcase – just in case….) Always reliable, it would work for him for the rest of our journey. All the photographs from the time his cameras were stolen until this point were taken with his Huawei mobile. Not bad, but the Nikon is better
We only had one day left in Lisbon, so we hopped onto the Red Hop-on-Hop-off Bus
and toured the city sights
The man looks tired. It’s the Memorial erected at Belem to celebrate 100 years of Naval aviation, 1917-2017, and in honour of Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho, who set off on the first flight across the southern Atlantic from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro in 1922. It is a replica of a First World War Fairey III B float/biplane named "Santa Cruz". Who, today, would be brave or foolhardy enough to fly across the Atlantic in a machine like that, with less performance, probably, than a modern Cessna or Piper?

Lunch time and decision time. This was a real tourist trap
Lynne ordered the prawn turnovers. Each one had a lot of thick, pink flavourless sauce and one half of a prawn. The chips were made from mash and re-formed. Not a great meal
John played safe with half a cheese and ham baguette, probably the better choice. And this meal cost more than our usual three course Menu del Dia
But you are there and you are hungry, so you do it
One thing we disliked all through Portugal and Spain was people smoking, everywhere, but it was especially unpleasant when it was right next to us in outdoor restaurants - and we ate al fresco many times. There doesn't appear to be any effective anti-smoking campaign
We were on the bank of the Tagus estuary at the famous Belém Tower, built between 1514 and 1520
It is very photogenic!
We wished this innovative tuk-tuk van had been open, just what we needed
The maritime aviation memorial next to the Tagus estuary, with the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei in the background
The Maritime museum at the end of the Hieronymite Monastery
John took a photo of the statue of Prince Henry the Navigator in their front reception area
Inside the Church of Santa Maria
A medallioned roof
and a Pietá window
Horse drawn carriages for hire
with a much admired dapple grey
A beautiful tiled wall in the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém
We spent a few minutes in a short queue (John having been shown the way the day before, knew how to beat the crowded queues, which consist, mostly, of people queuing to buy pastries, not to sit down and enjoy them)
and were shown to a lovely table in the conservatory
where we ordered two pasteis with a pot of refreshing green tea for Lynne and a good coffee for John
They are superb
The bill is very reasonable. We just regretted having had only one each; they are very moreish
It is very busy, service is not quick and ordering another would have meant a longish wait
Trays keep arriving in the shop area
where people queue for a long while to take them away
We walked past the Presidential Palace with guards on duty
Holding those swords for hours must really be challenging
We had walked for miles that day and realised that it was time for some supper and that, magically and by chance, we had arrived at a place to which we had been recommended. (Our source told us it was in Belém - it's nearer the middle of Lisbon). The 28min/10Km is for a route across the bridge to elsewhere! It was still a good long walk
It is an old municipal market, but it has been converted and is now the Time Out market
Inside, just a few stalls selling market produce
Seeds of some of our best proteas, plus some from Europe
A very good wine shop
and lots of seating
Around the edges of the main hall, there are stalls manned by staff from some of the best chefs and restaurants in Lisbon. Here you can eat Michelin star food for very little. On this stall, the Plate of the Day special costs only €9.90
Most can sell you a glass of wine paired to your dish, or a bottle
and you can see the chefs working in the open kitchens at the back of the stalls
or you can buy some Portuguese charcuterie from this stand
They have a cooking demonstration area
Wow! Had we not been committed to eating Portuguese food that evening, this sushi/sashimi was very, very tempting
This British couple was attacking a whole chicken, each!
We sat opposite a lovely couple from Denver in the USA and they could have been us, similar ages, similar outlook on life, travelling like us, SKIing (Spending the Kids Inheritance) and not Trump fans. We had such a fun evening
John began with a draught beer to cut his thirst. They give you these small electronic devices when you place your order and tell you it will buzz when your dish is ready. It goes off like a small firework display! Very clever, we need them in SA. On them, you can see the names of the two different restaurants who made our food
Lynne chose Suckling pork; beautifully crisp crackling with moist pork beneath, on a bed of rather watery Bok choi and accompanied by a rich butternut purée and some orange segments. She had a glass of their house wine and it was a great match
John had glazed duck with watercress salad on a bed of celeriac purée and another house wine (both were from the Douro). He loved them both - the wines and the dish. It is a great idea to have top chefs showcasing their food this way. It seems that it brings them even more business at their restaurants
It was pouring with rain when we left at about 9 pm
We took the Metro to our AirBnB and had an early night. We were off to Alentejo and Seville the next morning
We'll continue the story next week