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Calcada Portuguesa, the intricate mosaic work on Lisbon streets

The day we left Greece and flew to Lisbon was also Mr. JJ’s birthday. We woke up early and were ready for our last taxi ride in Athens just as the sky was lightening. The rental owners were able to arrange a taxi for us and the kids dozed quietly on the ride to the airport. We flew Aegean Airlines from Athens to Milan and the flight was actually quite comfortable. In Milan, we had to wait a while as flights were delayed and our flight number wasn’t even loaded on the TV monitor. Eventually, we were assigned a gate and made our way there. We had just enough time to grab some coffee and croissants before boarding was announced.

The flight into Lisbon was exciting for me as we had never flown TAP airlines before. Once in Lisbon, we collected our luggage and made our way to the front of the airport. Where stood a long, snaking line for the taxi cab. It took us nearly three-quarters of an hour to get a taxi cab and I found the smoking all around the area a bit disconcerting.

Our guest rental for the two nights in Lisbon was the Lisbon Dreams Guest House. We found them via Booking.com and they had a family room for four, with included breakfast and free WiFi. The Guest house was also close to the Metro stations and the price was reasonable. The cab driver dropped us off at the front of the guest house, on a tree-lined street, and we had to look carefully for the entrance. The area around us looked tranquil as we drove up. We rung the door bell and were admitted inside. We had to walk up a flight of stairs and then another to reach the landing on the first floor. One of the rooms off hallway led to the office where a receptionist made us welcome. Though it wasn’t quite 3 pm, we went through the check-in process. Our family room had four beds and was right next to the shared bathrooms. Although there are 6-7 rooms for rent, the entire house is split up nicely on both sides of the office, so one doesn’t feel crowded. There is a central dining area with a kitchen with water, tea and coffee at all times. This area leads out onto a terrace as well. The other side of the hallway leads to an open lounge/ living area from where other rooms branch off.

Our room felt a little tight with all the beds, the armoire, the night stands but it was clean, comfortable and quaint. There were small balconies from the windows. There were two full baths near by that had to be shared with the other renters. But they were kept clean the whole time we were there with adequate hand towels, emptied trash cans and plenty of soaps. Bathrobe, towels and slippers were included in our price.

After hauling up our luggage (there were no elevators), we got some much-needed rest for the afternoon, deciding to forego a late lunch. This was a bad idea, as by 5 pm, we were all quite famished. So we set off to find a good place to celebrate a birthday and sate our hunger.

Sunday afternoons in this area of Lisbon was the absolute worst time to be hunting for an open restaurant. After walking about 20 minutes, looking for what was supposedly an open Indian restaurant, we came across the place only to find it tightly shuttered. We looked high and low and couldn’t find any other open food places. By now, Missy JJ and I were very hungry and growing hungrier by the minute. Sonny JJ and Mr. JJ wanted to walk past the guest house and get the Metro to go downtown. As we were walking past, we came across the only open restaurant whose menu did not have a single vegetarian item on their list. Against Mr. JJ’s sensible advice, I walked in and asked the owner if he could make a vegetarian plate for us. He said he could give us vegetables with french fries and rice. Well, all I could visualize was getting my hands on some food within the next few minutes. So I dragged a reluctant family into the little place and we waited. And waited as the family glared angrily at me. Soon enough, the owner brought in four plates of food, cooked white rice, french fries and some raw vegetables, just like he had promised.

As I ate some of the meal, all I could feel was Mr. JJ shooting daggers at me with his looks. Here he had been, looking forward to celebrating his birthday with a good meal and there I was, forcing him to dig into a tasteless, saltless meal. With all bonhomie fled, the situation felt quite grave as the boys barely touched their plates. Of course, Missy JJ and I had enough sense to feed ourselves some of the meal. At least enough to quieten our hungering stomachs. Though the food wasn’t anything to write home about, the owner was quite cordial and checked in on us often.

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The mostly empty Avenue da Liberdade, Lisbon

One could feel the frost settle all around us as we exited the little restaurant and headed back to the hotel. Mr. JJ was as angry as I have never seen him before. Even Sonny JJ was mad at me (which happens rarely) for spoiling his dad’s birthday celebrations. I was feeling guilty that the rest of the family hadn’t eaten much at all. As for myself, I had a half filled belly and could think more coherently again.

Walking past the guest house, we took the narrow streets that led us to the main street, Avenue da Liberdade. This area was a lot more lively and there were a couple of open establishments with music and dancing couples. As we strolled the majestic avenue, I enjoyed the tiled pavements that are so unique and iconic to Portugal, the Calcada Portuguesa. Limestone blocks are broken into tiny bits and laid painstakingly in a variety of beautiful patterns. We walked towards the large central plaza of the Monumento Des Restaurodores. The evening was pleasant but turning chilly. There wasn’t much of traffic on the streets. After getting pictures of the monuments and surrounding areas, we decided it was time to head back. But what about dinner?

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The once iconic Eden theater
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Monumento aos Restauradores, obelisk marking Portuguese independence from Spain in 1640, Hard Rock Cafe in the background on the right

As we silently walked back, we saw the signs for the Hard Rock Cafe to our right and a crowd gathering at its entrance. So we headed in that direction instead, only to be told that we would have about a 40 min wait. Well, we had no food in the room, and Mr. JJ’s anger had finally cooled down a bit and he was eager to try out their food. So we sat there, in the crowded bar of the Hard Rock Lisbon, immersed in the sights and sounds of the place for what seemed an inordinate amount of time. Finally, we were led upstairs to a booth.

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Mosaic pavements, Lisbon
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Mosaic pavements, Lisbon

We chose the cauliflower wings for me, Mr. JJ chose the Atomic Burger for his entrée and the kids tried the cauliflower burger. The cauliflower wings were not spicy enough and, in fact, were a bit too tangy for me. Our waiter, although a pleasant chap, was often forgetful and we had to remind him our requests more than once and then wait while he brought us whatever he had forgotten in the first place, including a refill on our water pitcher!

But the rocking atmosphere at the Hard Rock more than made up for any lack of service. And, so we enjoyed a second meal in one evening, this time a more content group. As birthday celebrations go, this is one that Mr. JJ is unlikely to forget for a long time to come. And one I wouldn’t care to be reminded of!