I flew back into Lisboa airport, caught the by now familiar Aeroport Bus to the city centre and then due to road works I had to yomp for twenty five minutes to the railway station. Boy, was I glad that by now I had managed to shed all of the books that I had brought along. The train to Cascais followed the coast out of Lisboa, passing the now deserted wasteland where the Optimus Alive Festival had been held and skirted the beaches whose sands were still packed with holiday makers at 6pm. Cascias is the next town along from Estoril and just forty five minutes from Lisboa on the very cheap and efficient train.
My dad was at the station to greet me and to show me the way to our hotel. Situated at the top of the town, the Hotel Cidadela was more than adequate for our family holiday. It was quiet and informal with more than enough sunbeds around the large pool and the rooms were spacious and clean. My parents had wangled a suite again but to be honest, had me and Sis been allocated one it would simply have given us more empty space to fill with clutter.
Over the next week I understood why my parents continue to return to Cascais. It is a lovely seaside resort and had a very similar feel and atmosphere to Lagos in the south of the country. The town was hosting its summer festival while we were there so every evening we were treated to several bands or singers on the large stage in the main square. On Sunday we saw the tail end of a religious parade through the town and the wine was VERY cheap and VERY drinkable.
One of the benefits of joining the oldies was that over the years they had done their homework and they had found some real gems of places to eat. The week was to prove a gastronomic delight. Whilst in Cascais we usually ate at small unassuming back-street restaurants patronized mainly by the Portuguese and which usually specialised in local dishes. Fish was plentiful and fresh, their beef stew was served in dinky little saucepans and we often ended the meal with a complimentary ginja liqueur. We also ate at a Brazilian restaurant one evening where waiters circulated among the diners with long skewers loaded with meat and who would come over to your table if you tipped your indicator to green (little wooden blocks with one end painted red for ‘hold fire for five minutes’ and green for ‘feed me now’). On a day trip into Lisboa we lunched in The Cervejaria da Trindade – the city’s oldest beer hall which is situated on the site of an old monastery and took a drink in what I think is the oldest bar- the Brasileira Cafe. I think that our favourite restaurant of all was the Melody Bar in Cascais – it looked like a cheap caff from outside but the food, service and friendly atmosphere were quite special and it won a landslide vote when we were deciding where to go for our last evening.
Late one night when Sis and I were evicted from a bar at 2am (because it was closing time and not because of our behaviour) she wondered aloud where we could go next. Some blokes advised us that nowhere else would be open BUT we could go with them to a small, unadvertised bar. We decided that if things turned out dodgy we could run faster than any of them so decided to risk it. Several streets away from the main square we came to a an unmarked wooden door and after we politely knocked it was opened by a mountain of a man. Stairs led up and noise and cigarette smoke billowed down. Sis went up to check it out while I stood guard outside – but it was fine. It was packed with people and was obviously THE place to go. The atmosphere upstairs was loud and smoky but friendly. Dumpy bottles of beer were delivered to the tables in large metal buckets filled with ice which had bottle openers attached by a chain. We know that it was a good night because we didn’t get back to our hotel until 5.30am and now we found out just why our hotel was at the perfect location. Whatever junction you came to, provided you went uphill you would eventually reach our hotel.
We did have a day out to Lisboa and we covered different areas to that which I had explored with BF just few weeks previously. We visited the Mercado da Ribeira (market), rode the Elevador/Ascensor Da Bica (funicular), the bottom of which was tucked in behind a little doorway and clattered woodenly up the incredibly steep hillside and then walking even further up we were treated to a dazzling display of wealth inside the church of S Roque. The side chapels were all decorated with gold and silver or perhaps gold leaf shining out from the gloom were quite a surprise.
I didn’t make it to Sintra which is a shame as somebody famous once said “to leave out Sintra in seeing the world is no better than travelling blindfold” but at least it gives me another reason to return to Portugal and there is still more of Lisboa that I would like to visit one day.
Our journey back to the airport was in a stretch Merc, driven very sedately by an eighty year old gentleman. He told us that he was the oldest cabbie in Lisbon. I guess he is probably the oldest cabbie in Portugal, but must also be one of the most travelled and has been to more than forty five countries in the world. We caught our plane back to the UK by the skin of our teeth – due to delays at passport control. They were closing the gate and I had one foot inside the gate and one outside whilst the oldies hurtled along the long corridors to reach me. I very nearly boarded alone. On an an extremely tight schedule I couldn’t afford to miss my flight but I reckon my dad was secretly disappointed that they made it as it would have given him the excuse to stay on another few days.