Lisbon, a city of spies?
When I think of spy cities, a few cities come to mind — Berlin, Washington D.C., New York City, Hollywood, London, Paris.
But Lisbon? Surely not.
Nevertheless, during World War II, Portugal was seen as a ‘neutral’ country, yet, behind the scenes, it was a different story. The city’s glorious stretch of golden coastline camouflaged the city’s espionage activities during World War II. Many secret agents from both sides operated under the cover of their diplomatic status.
According to a 1942 American document, Lisbon was the main point of entry and exit for agents and various forms of communication between Continental Europe and the rest of the world.
In fact, Ian Flemin, creator of the James Bond novels, lodged at the Hotel Palácio in Estoril. The hotel was featured in the movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Historical tidbits like this is one of the reasons I jetted to Lisboa. Celebrating Thanksgiving and watching the World Cup added to the adventure.
Discovered it was cheaper to fly to Porto, then take a train to Lisbon. Added bonus was getting to spend a few days exploring Porto.
The 2-hour, 45 minute train ride was relaxing and very scenic.
A one-way first-class train ticket from Porto to Lisbon was only €12; second-class was €5, if purchased at least 12 weeks prior to departure date. Also, I purchased my train tickets from Comboios de Portugal, the official state-owned company. Rail Ninja and Omio are alternatives, but prices were exactly the same, but add in a service fee.
LX BOUTIQUE HOTEL
Overall, not a bad stay. An enjoyable experience at the LX Boutique Hotel. My Superior Double Room with River View was much larger than expected.
Additionally, I booked directly with the hotel. I always try to book directly because it’s less hassle if I have to cancel — remember COVID?
Also, most hotels will price match, and the LX Boutique Hotel is one of those hotels. They not only matched the Hotels.com price, but also included breakfast and free cancellation.
The bathroom was huge, but the frosted-cover doors mean you can’t be shy as everything could be heard outside the bathroom doors.
Central temperature was confusing as I couldn’t get the temperature right. The pillows were terrible. They went flat as soon as you laid your head on them. I suggested to hotel management that they consider offering guests a pillow menu with the option of firmer pillows.
Breakfast wasn’t noteworthy, but it was included, and it did the job until lunch.
Customer service was hit or miss. The gentlemen at the desk at least acknowledged you when you entered, but one female seemed angry at having to work.
Overall, the Confraria LX restaurant is not bad for a sushi restaurant. The hotel’s restaurant, customer service was nice and professional. Atmosphere was good as I went early to avoid crowds. The sushi was okay, but I preferred the Miso soup and soybeans. Prices are typical of sushi restaurants, so pay attention to what you’re ordering.
Another plus for the LX Boutique Hotel is its location to Pink Street.
What is Pink Street?
Officially Lisbon’s Pink Street is Rua Nova do Carvalho. This small pedestrian street has become Lisbon’s hottest destination at night.
Not bad considering decades ago, it was Lisbon’s “red light district.”
In 2011, the city decided it was time to make some changes and improve the area’s reputation. Out went the brothels and shifty bars; Nice cafes, upstanding bars, and an open art gallery moved in. The area goes from calm during daytime to one of the hottest spots in Europe at night.
During World Cup 2022, Pink Street was crowded, loud and too rowdy for me at nighttime. However, I enjoyed the shops and restaurants during the day.
PRAÇA DO COMÉRCIO
The starting point for my exploration, Praça do Comércio is one of Lisbon’s most recognizable squares. Known to locals as Terreiro do Paço, it is one of the largest squares in Europe.
The view of the Tagus is amazing. As the city wakes, so too does Praça do Comércio.
The plaza was completely remodeled following the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake that occurred 1 November 1755, All Saints’ Day.
LISBOA STORY CENTRE
Speaking of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the Lisboa Story Centre is an awesome place to visit to see, learn and feel how the calamitous event changed Lisbon, and led to the birth of modern seismology and earthquake engineering.
An interactive museum, this was an enjoyable visit. Entry price of €6.50 was decent and the audio guided storytelling was educational.
This is not a bad way to spend an hour learning about some of the history of Lisbon.
Learning about the defenestration of Miguel de Vasconcelos, the last Secretary of State of the Kingdom of Portugal, was fascinating.
Who knew there was a word for throwing someone out of a window?
The 1755 earthquake is shown in a theater immersive experience that brings this natural disaster to life for visitors.
I did wish there was a little more too it, but still worth a visit, especially for first-time visitors.
ELEVADOR DE SANTA JUSTA
The 45 meters high Elevador de Santa Justa is one of Lisbon’s most photographed landmarks. Inaugurated as one of the city’s public transport systems on 10 July 1902, it was originally called Elevador do Carmo, or Carmo Lift.
I learned there are two entry fees. The main price of € 5.30 is only for the elevator. An additional €1.50 is needed if you want to go up to the viewpoint/observation deck. However, if you purchase a Lisboa Card, entry is included.
Get there early! The queue fills up quickly. Also, the lift only takes about 20 to 30 people up at once. Don’t waste an entire day waiting to go up and get a few photos. Lisbon has plenty of areas that appeal to the photographer in us all.
CERVEJARIA ANTÁRTIDA LISBOA
AVOID!!! DO NOT EAT HERE!
My tummy was growling after experiencing Elevador de Santa Justa. I wanted seafood for lunch, so I googled nearby seafood restaurants. Cervejaria Antártida Lisboa got my attention.
Once again, I judged a book by its cover.
The food was vomit-inducing. The creamy seafood soup with croutons was bland and barely palatable. The “shrimp” hot dog was more carrots and sauce than shrimp. Prices were expensive and food quality terrible. Customer service was typical and nothing special.
YELLOW BUS TOURS – LISBOA
Hop On/Hop Off tours are usually a nice way for an explorer to orient themselves to a city. The Belém Lisbon Bus Tour was the tour I chose to help me discover the secrets and places that make Lisbon unique.
The blue line route was €20. The brochure said the route travels to various landmarks and monuments like the Jerónimos Monastery, Tower of Belém and Monument to the Discoveries. However, the bus route was more a taxi service, making more stops at hotels and restaurants than the historic attractions.
A relaxing ride, but packed with people. The audio guide didn’t work for me, so I simply sat back and enjoyed the scenery.
BRITISH BAR LISBOA
Later that evening, I decided to check out a World Cup 2022 game in a local establishment. I chose the British Bar Lisboa, which claims to be “Lisbon Oldest Bar.”
The good news was the bar was nice and warm, and had a good supply of soda. As a teetotaler, I don’t drink alcohol, but I do enjoy a nice pub atmosphere for a sporting event.
The bad news was I hadn’t checked the schedule. That evening, it was England vs USA.
Oh holy heck!!
Pub patrons, a mixture of Americans and British, all yelled in English, yet neither understanding each other. LOL.
There were a few funny looks and good natured teasing when they learned this American cheered for England.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself tremendously, and made a few new friends on both sides of the pond.
I also made time to explore the Christmas Markets around the city. Many of the European Christmas Market seasons usually kickoff in late November, and Lisbon’s Rossio Christmas Market was one. I visited so many stalls, I had to stop myself because I knew I couldn’t fit much in my suitcase. Airline luggage fees are astronomical!
CAFÉ GARRETT BY OHANA
One of the places I checked out for lunch was Café Garrett by Ohana. I noticed their signage while perusing the market. I was keen to try one of their hamburgers with the colorful buns.
I wanted a blue bun burger, being that I am an U.S. Air Force veteran. However, the blue bun only came with the tofu burger. Sadly, I selected the classic burger on a sun-dried tomato burger bun. The fries were decent and the burger was edible. However, it wasn’t worth €13.
THANKSGIVING AT THE HARD ROCK CAFE LISBON
The cherry on top of my Lisbon sundae was Thanksgiving at the Hard Rock Cafe Lisbon.
Seriously, what a cool way to celebrate and give thanks. The restaurant’s special Thanksgiving menu was delicious. The pumpkin pie was divine, though I would have preferred if the pie had been served warmed, but it was still delicious.
Customer service was excellent. My waiters Alex and Odor (I hope that was his name) were too cool. They made sure my experience was worthy of the holiday. And it was. Great job.
Lisbon is indeed a very underrated adventure location. I enjoyed every bit of this adventure. Yes, there were ups and downs, but that’s all part of the experience. Actually, I had such a wonderful experience, I’ve been telling my co-workers and friends to add Lisbon to their vacation destination lists.
Skipping Lisbon would’ve been a travesty. I am so glad I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving in this historically rich European capital.
Now onto Hamburg: Gateway to the World