I was hesitant about booking a holiday in Portugal in mid-June, but was persuaded to go ahead. We had a good time - eventually - although, really, much of it was too hot for me; generally into the 30s and possibly hitting 40°C in Lisbon yesterday.
Things didn't get off to a good start, when we tried to check in on Thursday evening, 12 hours beforehand; BA's website just gave us an error message and told us to go to the airport. So we waited for the exit poll, raised our eyebrows, and went to bed, getting up the following morning at ridiculous-o'clock. There was an unexpected queue at 5:30 in the morning at the entrance to Purple Parking, but the airport wasn't too busy.
Unfortunately, we were told, BA had overbooked the flight. We were given standby boarding passes and told to wait. Later, we were told to take everything
airside. This didn't seem entirely correct, but it was a new experience, so we did exactly as we were told. Security, however, insisted that our hold baggage had to go back to the drop-off desk; so, we did that, returned, and ended up having to run through Heathrow Terminal 3's delightful "retail experience".
We made it onto our flight, but our checked baggage did not. Though we both had suspicions, we weren't informed of this until a semi-decipherable tannoy announcement at Lisbon told us to go to the baggage enquiries desk. Many years ago I had a colleague to whom this happened, and I knew his luggage had been couriered to his hotel by the evening, so I had hopes this was a standard process. It seemed to be so; but BA promised the luggage would be on the afternoon flight, and it wasn't. Our hotel was informed that it would be on the overnight flight, and it did indeed turn up by the following morning, but it didn't make for the most relaxing of starts.Fri 9th:
Arrival, somewhat discombobulated. The Metro appears to be straightforward to navigate and we head to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, which houses a considerable collection, including some interesting Persian carpets and Turkish ceramics. We walk across the Parque Eduardo VII to the Aqueduto das Aguas Livres, a survivor of Lisbon's 1755 earthquake.
After reacquainting ourselves with our possessions, we head off to explore the city centre - Baixa and Chiado. It comes quickly to our attention that there are many people wandering around the streets more-or-less openly offering drugs; one assumes that the police don't care much.
Later in the day we head over to the Castle. As well as taking in the building and museum, we pause to listen to the tango band rehearsing on an outdoor stage in the gardens.
We take a tram to Belém. By this point it is becoming apparent that the Vivagem cards for public transport (basically like Oyster in London) aren't of the greatest quality (they're made of cardboard) and are prone to failure. Although the card only costs 50 cents it's quite annoying that you have to be so careful with them. The tram is packed and Belém is even busier; it's about a half hour queue in baking sunlight to get in to the Mosteiro doe Jerónimos, which is very ornate but otherwise not especially spectacular. The queue for the Tower on the riverfront is shorter, though not trivial.
We head out to Sintra. The train from Rossio station is straightforward, but once there, the Rough Guide map isn't entirely clear and the text doesn't explain strongly enough that you should get the bus to the palace at Pena. Naïvely I reckon it's about a kilometre, but I haven't allowed for poor signage. We do eventually make it on foot, but our patience is tried. Fortunately, it's worth it. We return via the Moorish Castle.
Another trip to Sintra, this time for the Palácio Nacional and the Quinta da Regaleira. Though I've only visited the house at West Wycombe Park, the cave system in the grounds at Regaleira suggests to me the Hell-Fire Caves; the Initiation Well seems like an inside-out Tower of Babel.
We wake up to the news of the Grenfell Tower fire; after the attack in Borough Market and the coalition of crackpots, it adds to the stream of disturbing UK news. We spend the day in Lisbon, firstly in the Alfama district, visiting the Paneão Nacional (Pantheon), São Vicente de Fora, and the Water Museum at Barbadinhos. Although there's an exhibition we're really there for the steampunk of the preserved pumping station.
Later we trek out to Estrela; the basilica is disappointing, but the nearby park is pleasant and a granizado is refreshing.Thurs 15th:
More museums. There's a queue of about 15 minutes just to use the automated ticket machines at Cais do Sodré station, but once we get to Alcântara, the streets are quiet. The Museu do Oriente is excellent, but sadly it's almost deserted. After lunch we go to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which has a respectable number of visitors but is far from busy.
We take a long-distance trip to Porto. We're a bit pressed for time, given the hilly nature of the city, so we don't venture too far from the centre, and don't make it to Vila Nova da Gaia, where the wine lodges are. But we do experience a Franceshina for lunch, and see the famous Lello bookshop.
It turns out the botanical garden is closed, so we skip that part of the plan and move on to the Decorative arts museum. After lunch we take in the small Casa Museu Dr A Gonçalves. Although Lisbon Airport is chaotic and the check-in machine tells us to go to gate "undefined", the flight home is smoother. I notice smoke on the ground as we ascend from Lisbon Airport and wonder if it's a wildfire; we are oblivious to the catastrophe going on a few hundred kilometers away, though the train to Porto passed through Coimbra. On return, only about half of the electronic passport gates are in use for some reason, and Purple Parking's IVR is awkward and unforgiving, hanging up rather than repeating a question when you didn't hear it clearly the first time.
Lisbon was busy, but it didn't strike me as particularly commercial: the metro doesn't start until 6:30 in the morning, and there are often long intervals between trains. Likewise, the local trains were patchy - good for Sintra, but not so good in the direction of Cascais. Food was good though sometimes slow, and the hawking waiters in the city centre were even worse than the drug-dealers and selfie-stick sellers.