Playing Tourist in Lisbon
Three days of fun in the city.
We were invited to a private event in Lisbon which meant it would be a late evening. So, we decided to stay in the city and play tourist in Lisbon for a few days. Since it was the holiday season, we knew there would be holiday lights and festivities, which was a bonus.
The venue for this private event was in the Baixa-Chiado/Bairro Alto section of Lisbon, so we booked a room right down the street at Solar dos Poetas. This boutique hotel is right in Praça Camões, at the entrance to the Bairro Alto and a short walk to Largo do Chiado.
It’s difficult to find the sign to the hotel and once you’re inside the entrance, it doesn’t look inviting. But take the tiny elevator or the stairs up to the first floor, and you’ll discover warm shiny wood floors, modern colors, and a pleasant reception/bar area.
A continental breakfast is served (beginning at 8:00 am) and hotel guests are serenaded each morning by a piano player.
The Wine Post.
The private event we attended was held at the Wine Post. I had heard of this interesting event venue and was curious about it. As we walked from our hotel, it was raining and dark, so it took a while for us to find the entrance to this place as there was a street number on the door but no sign. From the front, it looked like an old Lisbon apartment building in dire need of a facelift. We were with our friends, Cecilia and Jonathan, so we felt there was safety in numbers when Paul bravely pressed the door buzzer for floor number 3 and the door lock immediately unlatched. The door creaked open, and we found ourselves in a large, old-smelling, and dark entry foyer with no lights and a set of stairs (no elevator here).
We began cautiously ascending the stairs still uncertain if we were in the right place using our cell phone flashlights to guide us. Then we heard conversations and laughter coming from somewhere upstairs, so we ventured onward. We had arrived!
The space itself was lovely! Tall windows and balconies overlook the street. High ceilings and candlelight complimented the eclectic furnishings and antiques. Wine Post hosts, André and Diogo offer a variety of private events including wine tastings and party dinners. The party dinner we attended served excellent food and there was plenty of wine. After dinner, our group was entertained with live Bossa music with a little Fado thrown in.
Fado in a Palace.
The following evening, we attended an intimate dining experience with a Fado music performance. Fado is music that comes from the Portuguese soul. They are songs about feelings, loss, and the struggles of daily life. The Fado singer is usually accompanied by two musicians playing string instruments. This performance was held at the Palácio das Especiarias Hotel, our hotel’s sister property located just around the corner.
Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama was instrumental in opening the sea route to India as well as Africa, Asia, and Brazil. The opening of these routes resulted in the ability to import exotic spices and precious metals to Portugal making the country a major trade center where the affluent could purchase these rare items. The hotel is a former palace where members of the elite were welcomed.
Held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings, the elegant and private dining room seats only 24 people and reservations are required in advance. Prior to commencing with the dinner and music, guests listen to a pianist playing classical music while sipping on sparkling wine in a small living room with a fireplace adjacent to the dining room.
Dinner consisted of Portuguese cuisine including soup, a choice of three entrees (you must choose this at the time you make your reservation), wine, and dessert.
We were fortunate to be seated at the front of the room, close to the musicians. The music was performed in-between courses. The performance was geared to tourists meaning that the Fado singer (who spoke several languages) described the tradition of Fado and its importance in Portuguese culture in English, so that everyone seated could understand. You could tell that these musicians were passionate about their craft. It was a most beautiful and entertaining evening!
Personally, I enjoy listening to Fado as it reminds me of when I was a little girl and would visit my paternal grandparents on a Sunday morning in the Fox Point section of Providence. Fado music was always playing, and the aromas of my grandmother’s Portuguese cooking always gave me a comfortable, safe feeling.
Taking in Time Out.
December is part of the rainy season in Portugal and during the three days that we were in Lisbon, we experienced a lot of rain – sometimes torrential - and even some flooded streets. But on our last full day in Lisbon, the sun came out in the morning, and the temperatures were mild, so we decided to take a walk to the Time Out Market and see where the rest of the day took us.
Time Out is a marketplace that reminds us of Faneuil Hall Marketplace & Quincy Market in Boston, Massachusetts. On one side, there’s a mercado where you can buy fresh produce, meats, and fish. On the other side, there are several shops selling a variety of prepared foods that you can enjoy sitting at communal tables or outside. It’s across the street from the Cais do Sodré metro station and just around the corner from the famous Pink Street. This area attracts many tourists, and you can hire a Tuk Tuk to take you around if you don’t want to walk.
Riding in a little red car.
After perusing the market, we decided to continue our walk since it was late morning, and we weren’t ready to eat lunch. We rounded a corner and Paul spotted a little red car parked along the side of the street. Paul is a car enthusiast (we’ve owned our share of sport and antique cars), so he walked up to the little vehicle and started a conversation with the owner who was named Saulo.
Saulo is a friendly and personable man and the owner of Lalocomotivatours. His red mini-Fiat 500 is only one of two such vehicles in Portugal. He offers a variety of tours in his little red car (no heat and no roof) around the Lisbon area. You can book a tour online via his website, or if he’s available, you can hire him on the spot. On a whim, and since the weather was so nice and we were playing tourist, we decided to take a one and a half hour tour of some of the areas of Lisbon that we have not seen with the plan to end the tour in Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest area and home of the Fado Museum.
We hopped into the back of this tiny car and off we went!
Saulo is originally from Italy, but he fell in love with a Portuguese woman and settled down in Portugal. He is extremely knowledgeable in Portuguese history and culture and speaks English very well.
The ride through the streets (some very narrow ones) was informative, sometimes harrowing, and definitely interesting. When we slowed down at a traffic light or intersection, tourists would stop and smile, then take a picture of us. It got to a point where we started waving back to people as if we were celebrities!
And then the dark clouds appeared.
About halfway through the tour, dark clouds appeared and Saulo attempted to outrun the rain, but to no avail. It began with sprinkles and then downpours. Although Paul and I had jackets and hats on, we were getting wet (remember I mentioned that the tiny car has no roof). Determined to escape the rain, Saulo found a protective archway as we contemplated waiting for the rain to stop or to just end the tour. Saulo felt confident the rain would end (we weren’t feeling as confident), but after about thirty minutes, the sun reappeared and off we went again in the little red Fiat where the wind soon dried our wet jeans and jackets.
We continued our tour, stopping for photos here and there and then ended the tour as planned, in Alfama. By now it was mid-afternoon, and we were hungry. So, we invited Saulo to join us for a late lunch at a lovely newly opened Portuguese restaurant called Bica dos Cavalos. Just outside of the restaurant two older Portuguese women were sitting at tables, offering homemade Ginja for sale. Paul and I purchased two small bottles from Olga – one for us and one to take home to Saulo’s wife, who during the course of the afternoon discovered that she and I share the same last family name of Souza.
Time to go back.
We thanked Saulo for the tour and exchanged contact information because now we’re ‘friends for life’ as he put it. Indeed, we plan to take another tour with him once the weather is nicer, to other areas of Lisbon that we want to explore. Saulo insisted on driving us back about a block away from our hotel, which we thankfully accepted since we were running a bit late and were meeting friends for drinks and dinner.
Ending our stay in Lisbon.
Because of the rain, the Christmas lighting ceremonies which were supposed to have been held the night before were rescheduled, which happened to be on the last night of our stay in Lisbon. As a result, there were thousands of people in the area, and it was hard to even navigate the streets and sidewalks. So, we spent the evening close to our hotel (which was essentially a big part of the lighting displays) with our friends, Sameer and Michele. We had an enjoyable Portuguese dinner at a nearby restaurant and then found an outdoor table near a kiosk selling wine and beer, and enjoyed conversation, live music, and the holiday lights.
It was fun playing tourist in Portugal! We made new friends and experienced some interesting moments and spent time with old friends! Both Paul and I agreed that the spur of the moment plans often make some of the best and most memorable days.
Muito obrigada (many thanks) to Pat for supporting Our Portugal Journey through Buy Me a Coffee. Your generosity and interest help to keep this publication free to subscribers.
Until next time…
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