Thursday, July 26, 2007

A budget traveler’s guide to surviving LISBON, PORTUGAL

Lisbon is one of the last places a Flip would most likely visit when he goes to Europe, as this capital city of Portugal has not received the publicity it so richly deserves. But for anyone in search of an affordable European escapade, whether it be sunbathing by the sea, exploring a historical building or dancing in a crowded watering hole, Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) is a very recommendable destination. And for someone who wonders how Manila would look like had it been a European city, this city is your answer.

Wanna visit Lisbon? Pack your bags and greet this very laid-back and hospitable Iberian city by the Atlantic Ocean with a lively “Bom dia!

1. Prepare. Lisbon is a “walked” city. Although there is a subway that connects several tourist spots, it is not as complex as those of other big cities in Europe. To appreciate Lisbon is to know it while walking. There’s an uphill climb to reach Castelo de São Jorge or the Barrio Alto, so light and durable footwear is advised.

2. Savor. The city is the best destination in Europe for seafood lovers. While most European capitals would charge you an arm and a leg for fish the size of a small banana, Lisbon prides itself with its rich bounty from its waters at very economical rates. Do try bacalhao (codfish) cooked in any of its vast array of cooking methods in any of the restaurants around the Praça do Rossio, Lisbon’s main square. Lisbon is also famous for its pastries; the pastéis de Belém, custard pie topped with cinnamon and confectioner’s sugar, is a must-eat.

3. Look out. As I’ve said previously, there would be a part in your map that seems odd. It just means that you have to take the Elevador de Santa Justa to reach the archaeological site of the Convento do Carmo. You could go walking, but why anyone would want to miss out on a ride in the city elevator totally escapes me. The Portuguese speak very good English (better than, uhmm, their Iberian neighbors) so you don’t have to worry should you get lost. Speaking Spanish is also a big advantage, although -- of course -- if you speak Portuguese, you'd not have any problem.

4. Marvel. Lisbon’s most representative monuments are not within the city center. But don’t be lazy and not visit them for they are all sites to behold. In the Belém area, you’d have to see the Torre de Belém, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Flips should look for the statue of Magellan, Fernão de Magalhães in Portuguese) and the famous Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a UNICEF heritage site and the burial place for two of the most distinguished Portuguese of all time, Vasco da Gama and Luís Vaz de Camões. Contrast this architectural opulence with that of the cathedral of Lisbon, called La Sé, and the city’s oldest and quaintest village known as Alfama.

5. Experience. Nightlife and art in Lisbon converge in the Praça do Comércio and along the Rua Augusta. In the morning, independent artists and painters line up this street of the Baixa Pombalina and offer the best of Portuguese art to tourists and kibitzers alike. In the evening, the streets are lit up with festive bulbs and garlands and people pass their time eating, drinking, socializing and feeling the sea breeze. For beach lovers, I highly recommend taking the metro to Cascais and Estoril, in the outskirts of the city. For more adventure, you could take the metro that passes through Estoril and Cascais and get off at the last stop. Take an urban bus to Cabo da Roca, continental Europe’s western-most point. Certificates are issued to those who have reached this point.

Marlon’s Lisbon route (1-2 days): Take a metro to the Belém area. Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Torre de Belém. Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Metro back to the Cais do Sodré station. Praça do Comércio. Alfama. La Sé. Praça do Rossio. Walk or tram to Castelo de São Jorge. Walk or tram back to Praça do Rossio. Elevador de Santa Justa. Carmo. Or you could just skip all of these and go directly to Estoril or Cascais. Extra half-day at least for the Cabo da Roca trip.

Marlon’s budget tip. Codfish is generally cheaper than sardines. Depending on how hungry you are, you could opt to share a serving of batter-coated codfish fried (crispy on the outside and super moist in the inside, it’s heaven on a plate) and served with a very generous serving of garden-fresh salad and potatoes, or eat it up all by yourself. Another filling dish is the potato-and-fish ball... that is as big as a grapefruit.

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