An in depth reconnaissance visit to Lisbon has provided invaluable information for our run ashore in the Portuguese capital. The RENFE Trenhotel is scheduled to deposit us at Santa Apolonia Station at the slightly unfashionable hour of 7.40 a.m.
The station is on the waterfront some way out to the east of the city centre. It is a smallish terminus (think Glasgow Queen Street or Marylebone) but has decent facilities including left luggage lockers, a couple of cafes and a Pingo Doce supermarket open 08.30 t0 22.00 with a decent range of food and drink.
Walking into the city centre is possible but a better option is to go for a Carris day pass which covers trams, buses, funiculars and the Elevadore. Cost is €5 + 0.50 card charge. There are ticket machines at all Metro stations with an English language option.
The Lisbon metro is clean and efficient with regular trains. Services start at 7.30 a.m. on Sundays and there is an 8 minute gap between trains. The metro Blue line runs from Apolonia two stops into the city centre, which is compact but very hilly. Anybody who gets lost in the city just needs to get on to the blue line and ride it back to its southern terminus at St. Apolonia.
The trams are the real highlight for the transport fan and even some normal people might enjoy the ride through the older parts of the city. Some services don’t run on Sundays but fortunately for us the really interesting ones do. The really famous trip is the number 28 which is in all of the guide books and attracts queues throughout the day. It features single track sections, gauntletting, roller coaster gradients and some very hard drivin’ tram drivers. There is a shorter uni-directional circular trip on the number 12 which is also well worth the effort.
Most of the trams are old fashioned “Electricos” with well preserved bodywork and refurbished mechanicals, brakes etc. One route uses modern Siemens articulated sets a bit like those used in Manchester or Croydon. In theory services run at regular time intervals but there can be long gaps then 3 pitch up in a line. They can get packed and big rucsacs are a definite no-no. The best pitch is to stand on the rear platform unless you are the sort of wuss who needs a seat.
There are a total of three Ascensors (funiculars) which take the effort out of hill climbing – very quaint, a bit rattly but fun. One of them is even called Gloria. A major plus point of the Ascendors is that one can “accidentally” stand on the foot bell at the rear end of the car. There is one Elavadore which is a magnificent looking free standing lift. As of 31st October it was closed indefinitely for safety repairs.
The totally brilliant Museo de Carris is, sadly, closed on Sundays but makes a return visit to Lisbon an essential. For €3 each we had the place to ourselves for a morning, including exclusive use of a very smart tramcar which conveyed us between the various museum annexes on the main depot site.
The city is a bit slow to get up and going on a Sunday morning but does come to life for lunch. Prices are quite cheap once you get away from the main tourist haunts. A half litre of draught beer is around €3 – €3.50 and you can get a decent bottle of plonk for around €3 in the supermarket. The food choices are endless – sardines are cheapish and a good bet along with pasteis de natal – wonderful custard tarts.
The biggest downside that we saw in Lisbon was the endless graffiti which makes the place look like the Bronx in the 1980’s. There are notices everywhere warning of pickpockets but we didn’t see anything untoward or feel unsafe at any time.