Here are some notes from a Canadian on visiting Lisbon. We visited Lisbon Sept 20 to Sept 28, 2018.
I booked an Air Transat flight. I weighed the option against TAP and Air Canada, and I still chose Air Transat. A few things to report about the Thursday flight. It departs from a remote gate at Pearson’s Terminal 3, in a concourse for discount airlines. Plan extra time for the walk out as it’s around 90 meters to the tunnel, 230 meters through the tunnel, and another 90 meters to Gate 2. I was amused by it because I had planned plenty of time to grab water.
We flew in an Airbus 332, with a 3-3-3 configuration. The seat width is narrow, which is what one expect with a 3-3-3 configuration. What was unexplained is the reduced padding in the base of the seat. It doesn’t make sense as to why an airline would deliberately reduce the lower padding in a seat, even from a mass reduction perspective. I’d advise bringing your own padding for longer hauls to Athens or Tel Aviv.
This flight leaves at 19:20 and arrives at LIS at 07:20. It lands at effectively 02:00 Eastern time, which is tricky. Meal service ends at around 21:00 and the cabin dims. If you can sleep for four hours, do. Take the sleep. It’s about a seven hour flight gate to gate.
From The Terminal In
Customs took 55 minutes to clear. They had 12 officers working, 4 for EU citizens and 8 for the rest of us. It was pretty slow going. It did not seem as though they were used to such volume.
We elected to take the subway into the city. You can buy a metro card at the Airport Station. They use the British Flag on the machines to mean English. I found this strange and funny. Click it for English anyway. You’ll each need your own card. Feed the machine a ten euro note for each ticket and you’ll have enough fare for a few days.
Take the Red Line down to Alameda Station. It’s a 200m or so walk to the green line, with stairs in between, to transfer. Take the Cais Do Sodré train to go towards downtown.
We arrived at Rossio Station in about 45 minutes. The subway was not TTC crowded during the morning rush. Busy, but not dangerous.
The subway is pretty clean, appears to be very safe, and is quite usable.
During the 110 meter walk from Rossio Station to the Hotel, we were asked if we wanted to buy drugs by two different gentlemen. It was before 11:00.
The Square itself is beautiful, with a nice column in the centre and pretty, wavy, tile throughout.
We stayed at the O Artista Hotel, just to the North of Rossio Square. It’s a new hotel, well designed, with a very nice room featuring a kitchen, table, and comfortable beds. Our room looked out onto the Train Station, a pleasant view, with the sun setting each night just over the Station.
It was quite quiet, with solid soundproofing on the windows and walls. We didn’t hear anybody else on our floor while we stayed there, and didn’t hear anything from outside unless the windows were open.
The staff is very nice. They noticed that we drank large volumes of sparkling water and started including it for us, which was a nice surprise. The rooms are clean and well designed.
Landing in Europe before 3pm
Check-In time is usually around 15h00. So if you’re landing in the morning, you have to treat the day like it was a holiday. If you managed to sleep, that’s a good thing. The challenge will be to stay awake until 20h00 for a successful reset.
We started off with the Geological Museum. There are good explanations there for why Lisbon is the way that it is, and there’s a very decent room that lays out rocks and maps from different eras in Portugal’s geologic past, in order, from the few mountain ranges containing pre-Cambrian rock folds, all the way to quaternary deposits.
With the bedrock in place, we found a good museum at MAAD. The exhibits are interesting – you’ll get a sense for Portuguese art.
The aquarium is very pretty and very peaceful, located right in the middle of the Expo 98 grounds. The grounds themselves, and Oriente Station, are epic. The architecture is of high volume and the concrete work, with its arches and curves, is very well done. The ceilings are high and there’s a good volume of space. It works with the environment.
Both churches in the Barrio Alta, the ruined one, and the one with a painted flat wooden roof, complete with its little comic book alcoves, are pleasant to look at. There are plenty of displays of bones, arranged almost like it’s a creepy retail display you’ll see at The Bay. There’s a room off to the left that features the marketing campaign for St. Francis Xavier which is pretty neat. When I put it all together, you get this sense for how people who couldn’t read or write were marketed at in the 17th and 18th centuries. There was also a lot of work to convince visitors that the church did good work during the 18th and 19th centuries, which was the first time I ever experienced that kind of messaging.
The castle overlooking Lisbon proper has nice views has a museum with some of the broken stuff people left buried there, because it was broken stuff.
The Architecture Museum, and it’s annex were epic to experience. They’re located on the water front, and you can get to it from Cais Do Soldre Station. The power plant has been refurbished into museum quality pieces, complete with cutouts of key pipes and explanations of how the whole thing worked. There’s a lot to see and do if you keep walking east, including a tower. It’s worthy of an exploration.
Sintra (Castles and Hills)
It was unusually hot on the day we went to Sintra. 42c.
The train ride out to Sintra took around 50 minutes and can be taken just out of Rossio Square.
Whenever you see a line up, it’s because demand exceeds supply. Lines are visible manifestations of market failures. We waited for 40 minutes for the bus to take up the hill. We had purchased tickets to the Moorish Castle and the royal Disney-looking one, Pena Castle. The first stop was the Moorish Castle. Get off there.
The Moorish Castle was the best one. The views and the rawness of the stone were welcome. The stuff they found buried around the castle was interesting to look at. The plastic skeletons in the graves to be a strange touch, but it demonstrated the general point that people had been buried there, so mission accomplished. I could see why the castle made sense to be there – I could see the entire valley from those outlooks, and could see Lisbon way out there.
We bought water at the Moorish Castle. You may not be so lucky. So bring water.
In spite of buying tickets for the Royal Castle, Pena, we still had to line up for the line that went through the interior of the castle. It was fine. You could the different things the royal family owned. It reminded me a bit of typical Manhattan apartment and though that life up there must have been isolated. How could one possibly effectively administer a country from up there? The views from this castle were also nice, with a better view to the East. I could see all the way out to the Atlantic and all the way to Lisbon and thought of strategic defence and the role of the Celtic people. The heat made me think of all the salt that could be harvested this far south, and the role of the Atlantic in moving up north. It was just very peaceful and the physical geography was quite relaxing.
The trip back featured confused tourists sorting through their receipts looking for the bus ticket they had purchased earlier, or trying to use their Metro Card from Lisbon to tap onto the bus. This caused large delays of broken communication and showing one receipt after another. It was slow getting back to the station.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d take a taxi up and become a big part of the traffic problem on that hill.
The train ride out and back is great. Again, if you loaded a ten euro note onto your card, you don’t have to stand in a huge line for tickets at the station, or coming back.
If one leaves the central tourist valley, one can find decent Portuguese food to the North and to the East. The Western hill, around the castle, is very touristy because of the Castle. Local Lisbon food features potatoes, fish, and quite often chicken. The combination of cod with potato is classic. And simple. And delicious.
The one touristy zone we did was The Time Out Market down by Cais Do Soldre. The restaurants along the East side of the complex are good for sardines (even if they’re out of season), Cod (even if it is imported from Nordic countries), razor clams, and octopus.
Pastel de Nata, or Cream Pastry, is what a Canadian would call a Portuguese Tart. The Portuguese don’t call them as such. The variants we tried trended towards higher sugar and cream content than the harder egg variants. Pastry was excellent throughout the city, and shops even refused to sell old bread. (Which was nice!)
If you are a frequent consumer of Alberta beef, you will find the Portuguese variant to be tough and poor.If you are a frequent consumer of Ontario Pork, you will find Portuguese ham to be superior. I didn’t find a bad piece of pork in Lisbon. Or a bad fish. Or a bad seafood dish.
I’d recommend checking out Quermesse Restaurant on the Rua da Gloria. What I learned there was that light lemon can be added to a risotto if it’s light enough. You can experience that with beef cheeks. And I learned that Linguini Nero, pasta made with black squid ink, can work very well with butter and garlic. They have a beautiful menu and the restaurant maintains its integrity. I didn’t feel that the menu had been compromised.
We walked around 100 kilometers over the seven days, and experienced a lot of the space in and around Lisbon.
Lisbon’s core is a walking funnel that caters to the thousands of tourists. It’s modern, comfortable, and largely safe. (It’s safer than Tunisia. It’s safer than Casablanca. It’s safer than Egypt.)
Blue skies and white, four story buildings, are how I think of the space downtown. And cobblestone. I don’t think I saw a lone stone that was not cobbled.
The main parallel routes running from the river front to Rossio Square each features a nice walk – all eight North-South arteries are enjoyable. A walk along the primary pedestrian path Augusto produces a median of six offers to purchase drugs. Auria produced just one offer over several walks.
Outside the core is real Lisbon, with high apartment blocks squeezed between hills. The local shopping is less internationalized and the local produce is of high quality. It’s worth heading out on the trains to see the outer areas.
Most people we met spoke English. Some confused my accent with Australian. I was just happy that they could understand me.
You can get by with fewer than 20 Portuguese words here.
Data Science in Lisbon
I didn’t spend time doing the innovation tourism circuit. I saw large groupings of commercial hotels around convention centres, and more than enough old office, B, even C space just to the south of the University, and spaces approaching A commercial just to the North of Rossio Square. It could be good for an offsite. It’s an hour behind Germany, it keeps time with London, and it’s a few hours ahead Eastern Time.
The environment was productive — I managed to pound out 7000 words and a dozen functions over the week.
The Tourism Boom
You couldn’t walk ten meters without hearing a Brexiter complaining about tea, though, I didn’t hear a single British accent out of anybody under 50.
And in fewer numbers, there were young Italians, French, and Germans.
And in the smallest numbers, Southern Americans (Floridians mostly), confirming what every retail scientist knows about how they split Whole Foods from Target purchases on a regular basis.
It felt much busier than the infrastructure was set up for. From tour busses packed to the brim to very long lines for different venues, it felt like it was booming.
I’m not quite certain the reason for all of this. I think it might have something to do with North Africa being too unsafe, and, in September, the Western Caribbean isn’t quite primed to accept the volume for Northern Europe.
The Flight Back
You cannot check in, in advance, for Air Transat for a flight from Lisbon.
We took the subway back out. It wasn’t extremely busy and ran better than the TTC. It took just 45 minutes to get back out.
There were mechanical issues with the aircraft on the leg out from Toronto, resulting in a three hour delay. Then there logistical issues in Lisbon, maintaining that three hour delay. Air Transat operates an old fleet as part of its strategy. This is to be expected.
Lisbon has a lot of advantages for a week away from Canada.
It’s warm, it’s comparatively as close as Central America from Toronto, distinct, the food is good, the people are nice, and the experiences on offer are interesting.