First day in Lisbon, 20.10.10
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 21, 2010
Today was mostly a travel day (and it takes longer to pack each time we buy some souvenirs!) but we ended up in the Hotel Marques de Pombal in Lisbon in the middle of the afternoon. There are actually lots of Hotels Marques de Pombal because he was the much-admired Prime Minister who redesigned Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake, but ours is the one on Avenida de Liberadad and very nice it is too.
Our hotel is situated on a leafy boulevard not far from the restaurant strip, but from what we have seen of it, Lisbon is a bit raffish compared to Spanish cities. On our walk downtown in the late afternoon we saw homeless people curled up asleep beside shops selling Zegna suits and Louis Vitton handbags; and many of the apartment blocks could do with a lick of paint. Our hotel receptionist advised us to beware of pickpockets on public transport, and although this is standard advice anywhere, here we felt mildly uneasy walking about after dark in badly lit places.
Not least because of the pavements! Here, pavements are made up of thousands of small squares of shiny paving stones, and there is no pretence at laying them evenly or flat. I discovered this as soon as I ventured outside the hotel – where the surface consisted of smooth, glassy undulating waves with the occasional missing stone presenting particular peril for anyone silly enough to wear high heels. (Not me, I hasten to add, and I’ll certainly be wearing my ankle brace for my next venture outdoors!) Wikipedia tells me that this form of paving is unique to Portugal and its former colonies and I can only guess at how many sprains and breaks these pavements cause in wet weather when the smooth surfaces become really treacherous!
These perils made us choose a restaurant for dinner rather hastily, but it turned out to be an excellent choice. Restaurant Nicola is a very old restaurant dating back to the 19th century but was redecorated in the 1930s so it has an art deco ambience. Pleasingly, it was the haunt of a poet called Manuel du Bocage and there are paintings and a statue to admire but all of this would count for nothing if the food were not so good.
It’s traditional Portuguese fare, specialising in seafood. We were offered appetisers of sardine and tuna pate, a cheese a bit like a red Leicester, and a kind of dried ham, and we chose a white wine called Marques de Boba alentejo (2009) to wash it down with. Lisa’s ‘Cadiz’ soup was made with beans, carrots, celery, pasta, and a light tomato stock, while Tim’s ‘mixed smokeds’ turned out to be ham, (a bit like a parma ham) and a sort of salami, but not as greasy or fatty as chorizo. But it was the main course which was the star of the show – we thought that ‘arroz & marisco’ would turn out to be a sort of paella but it’s more of a cross between a soup or a stew. It’s made with long-grained rice, peeled prawns, clams and mussels in a spiced saffron stock and it was delicious.
Serious sight-seeing tomorrow!