|Day 1, Lisbon:
Our flight from Madrid landed in Lisbon at about 7:00pm. As had become our custom in every new city, we immediately bought a map and spent a couple of minutes familiarizing ourselves with the layout of the city and the subway system. We jumped in a taxi and asked to be dropped off at Praca Dom Rossio, the main plaza in the historic side of town. By the time we arrived at the plaza it was almost 8:00pm, giving us only an hour or so of sunlight to find a hotel for the night (we had been lazy about calling ahead for a hotel and had decided to wing it). Finding a decent hotel before sundown proved to be a little more difficult than initially anticipated. Maybe it was our giant backpacks, or the giant open city map, or the confused looks on our faces, or maybe even our capri-pants, but within five minutes of being dropped off in the Rossio plaza we had been approached and offered just about every drug on the menu. Under normal circumstances this would not have bothered us. However, we had just landed in a new country, we didn't speak the language, we didn't have a place to stay, our backpacks were getting heavy, it was getting dark, and we were attracting all the wrong people. We were both getting a little anxious. We decided to walk around and take the first available hotel room for the night. This "first available" room turned out to be a complete dump! It was in a pension (small hotel) above a restaurant and our room was small, old, dusty, and hot. If the shower had been any closer to the bed we would have been sleeping in it. The only redeeming quality - it was only 30 Euros. We tried to fall asleep as we watched live bull fights on local TV.
Day 2, Lisbon:
Priority number one on this morning was to find a better hotel. We decided to walk a few blocks toward some of the larger hotels and check-in to the first nice room available. We ultimately checked into the Sofitel Lisbon. This was bitter sweet for me - I had sworn off the Sofitel hotel chain after spending two terrible weeks in the Sofitel Houston during a business trip. However, the Sofitel Lisbon looked pretty swanky and it quickly won us over. The Sofitel room was terrific, particularly in light of the previous night's accommodations. After dropping off our bags we went exploring. We decided to follow a recommended walk/route on the city map we purchased. This turned out to be a big mistake (MY mistake, as Stephanie made me concede). This recommended route took us on a four hour tour of the grittiest parts of Lisbon. We were clearly the only dopes to own this particular map, as we didn't see a single tourist along our walk. Once we were an hour deep it became impossible to turn back...so we kept walking and toughed it out. Ultimately, the route spit us out by some of the tourist sights - the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Vasco de Gama is buried here), Tower of Belem, National Coach Museum, etc. Decent sights, however, a bit underwhelming. One of the most interesting sights for us was the April 25 Bridge, which looks exactly like the Golden Gate in San Francisco (in fact, the same company that built the Golden Gate/Bay Bridge built the April 25 Bridge). For dinner we went to a popular street (Rua Portas de Santo Antao) just off Rossio plaza which had a numerous outside restaurants.
Day 3, Lisbon:
After a light breakfast we decided to go back to sleep (we were tired from the long crappy walk the day before) in our comfortable Sofitel room. We woke back up around lunch time. After a somewhat disappointing day and half in Lisbon, we decided to brush ourselves off and give Lisbon another shot. We went for a casual walk through the medieval Alfama neighborhood. The Alfama neighborhood is one of the few neighborhoods in Lisbon that survived the massive earthquake of 1755. As such, the architecture of the neighborhood is pretty unique within city. We spent the afternoon wandering through little alleys and trying to weave our way through the Alfama. It was fun, but not as pretty (up close that is) as the postcards. For dinner we went back to Rua Portas de Santo Antao and ate some tasty fish and had some good local wine.
Day 4, Lisbon:
On this morning we caught an 8:00am bus to the Algarve region in the southern tip of Portugal (about a four hour ride). We are writing this update from Salema, the beach town in the Algarve that we have declared our home base. The town and the beach here are perfect! More on Salema later.