Lisbon Day 1: Getting there and checking in

An apology

Firstly, it’s been very quiet around this neck of the woods! For far too long. Half way through my trip around Vietnam, Hong Kong and South Korea a couple of years ago, I was struggling to keep up with my blog. Every post was taking me around three hours to write, then there was the proof reading and image editing, and I felt I was spending so much time doing that all of that that I was actually beginning to miss out on the experience of being in those amazing countries.

I decided to wait until I got home before sitting down to finish writing my trip up, but well – before I knew it – too much time had passed. I really regret that to be honest – I don’t have the in detail record of what I did each day as I do for most of the rest of my travels, but at least I have photos and memories!

I’ve travelled a fair bit since. Obviously… COVID… but thankfully I was still able to get away to new cities and live new experiences. Munich and Seville stand out, and I carried on making my regular trips to Dallas too. I’m glad life has returned – in most respects – to normal and hope it continues like that.

Starting afresh

So I’m giving this another crack – it just feels right to start this up again, and I’m going to try and strike a good balance between spending time writing the posts and enjoying my trips. The posts may not be as long as before or as detailed and I may write them when I get back from my trip, but I’ll give it a go, and if you come along for the ride thanks for joining me ☺️

For an autumn break I decided to visit what for me is a new country. I loved Seville – the scorching heat in November – and was tempted to return there, but in the end I looked for somewhere Southern that I haven’t visited before. And so I settled on the land of peri-peri and the city of seven hills – Lisbon, Portugal.

Getting there

Wanting to take advantage of British Airways Holidays’ current double tier points offer to make gold in the Executive Club again, I booked my entire trip through their site. That’s not something I usually do – I prefer to do my own research on accommodation, rather than select from the more limited options offered by package deals.

My alarm went off at 5am one morning at the start of what in Belfast at least was a grey and damp November day. A taxi ride later and I was in the Aspire Lounge at Belfast City Airport.

I’ve got to say the recent refurbishment has transformed what was the old Aspire lounge (which I always felt was decorated like a cruise ship restaurant in the 80s) and the old British Airways lounge, which Aspire took on. It’s light, airy, large and – on my visits so far anyway – has been mercifully free of the overcrowding that currently seems to be plaguing every other airport lounge in the UK. The addition of hot food is a plus too! If you’re flying through Belfast City I’d actually say now the lounge is worth the entry price, if you have to pay for it.

Thankfully they’ve also installed a drinks fountain so you no longer have to pour your Pepsi Max from a lukewarm 2 litre bottle!

Weather at Heathrow meant there was a slight delay in our plane departing, but the great inflight lead Kevin came around the Club Europe cabin offering tea, coffee and water while we waited at the gate, which was a first in my experience on a short haul flight, and really impressive.

I went for the full English breakfast and lots of coffee before we made our bumpy decent through dark, lumpy clouds into Heathrow.

I had a couple of quick work calls to make, and then made my way to a lounge while I waited for my flight.

My Heathrow Terminal 5 tip

If you’ve a bit of time and fancy escaping the hustle and bustle of the main Terminal 5, I’d recommend heading to the B satellite, where the British Airways lounge always seems to be quieter than the lounges in the main A terminal. It’s also had a soft refurbishment this year so is also a bit more up to date.

And if you fancy escaping the Heathrow crowds on your way there, forget the transit train and instead take the peaceful, ‘hidden’ walkway!

Take the escalator down to the transit platform, but then double back on yourself and take the lift down to -4. It’s like another world down there. The walk to terminal 5B is about ten minutes (if you’re a fast walker like me it’s about six) while the walk to terminal 5C is advertised as taking fifteen minutes.

The lounge here was blissfully quiet. I sat and caught up on some emails and generally felt very chilled out! Note if you try the 5B lounge the next time you’re at Heathrow, make sure you leave enough time to get back to the A gates in case your flight departs from there. Also don’t get the transit back! You need to walk back to the A gates otherwise you’ll arrive at arrivals.

Flying to Lisbon

Before I knew it, it was time for my flight to Lisbon. Despite being booked as a British Airways flight, the flight would actually be operated by Finnair, who are running a number of short haul services for their Oneworld partner. What this meant in practice was the crew, pilot and plane were Finnair, but the service was to British Airways standards.

I hadn’t managed to snag my favourite seat (1A) but was delighted when the man sitting there asked to swap with me (2A) so he could sit with a colleague. Result! And the plane left from the gate right beside the Terminal 5B lounge.

After a very filling and substantial meal of smoked chicken pappardelle with roast spinach (couldn’t really see that spinach!) and lobster sauce, I finished the novel I’d been reading and started writing this, before the captain announced we were beginning our descent into Lisbon.

By this time it was dark, but splots of rain were streaking the window, so I could tell the weather wasn’t great! I struck up a conversation with the really interesting man sitting to my right – he was a hotel architect on his way to Cape Verde and we chatted about Lisbon and our work (hi Rob if you’re reading this!)

Annoyingly it was a bus to the terminal, but we continued chatting on the way so it didn’t seem like it took that long. Then I just had a five minute wait for my bag before I was off into the city.

Into Lisbon’s centre

I have to say I felt a bit caught on the hop trying to get into Lisbon! It’s been years since I’ve been someplace unfamiliar and on my own, so it felt like ages since I’d navigated an unfamiliar public transport system, and I even struggled to find the airport’s metro station.

I eventually managed to find it – decorated with characters from the city – and paid €1,65 for my journey.

If you are remotely squeamish please skip the next paragraph.

So the journey was pretty uneventful, taking around just half an hour, and I only had to change once. The trains were full of colourful sounding chat, and one man that made his way through the carriage who had the biggest ever open wound I have seen on someone’s leg. It was literally like I could see right inside his leg which made my stomach lurch!

My hotel

After around half an hour I emerged up out of the metro and on to Lisbon’s a wet Avenida Liberdad – lined with luxury boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Burberry. It was pitch black but rain was still falling from the heavens.

Pavements in Lisbon are lined with bits of broken ceramic tiles – which were fine in themselves but the kerbs seemed to be made of some supremely slippy marble. In the rain stepping on and off the pavement was like skating on sheet ice. So I made my careful way down the street to my hotel.

I’m staying at the Heritage Avenida Liberdade. There was a pretty limited choice through BA Holidays but it seemed to get good reviews and I liked the location. And I think I made a decent choice! The lobby featured an old counter which a piece of paper explained was from an old herb shop which was either previously on – or near – the premises. I couldn’t work out which!

My bedroom wasn’t enormous, but had everything I needed and enough space to move around.

The bathroom featured lovely old looking tiles and was a lot more modern and spacious than it looks in the pic above!

At this point I must apologise to the couple who received an eyeful when I opened the bathroom window to look out at the view and gave them a brightly backlit view of myself wearing only a t-shirt and pants. I hope you’ve recovered from that sight! Sorry about that!

A quick trip to an amazing shop

By now it was around 8pm. I had a quick shower to refresh and then headed out – not to a bar or a restaurant, but to a department store!

I didn’t feel like going out for something to eat due to my early start, but did feel like doing something and El Corte Inglés was only about fifteen minutes away on the metro – and open until 10pm.

It turned out to be absolutely brilliant! Coming out of the metro took you right into the basement of the store, which consisted of a massive food court with lots of different counters – including this interesting hamburger restaurant….

There was also an enormous supermarket on this floor, with a fresh fish counter, bakery, and freshly prepared meal counter too. I spent ages just walking around it looking at everything. It was great! There was a whole aisle just for canned fish…

…some interesting looking crisps…

…and this which I was SORELY TEMPTED BY!

After walking around the supermarket for ages fairly agog to be honest I headed up into the rest of the store. It was just a really brilliant shop – selling practically everything you could need. There was even a whole section dedicated to cycling…

And the home department was amazing.

Even the Christmas section was massive.

On the top floor was a gourmet food hall, with restaurants and a posh small supermarket with olive oils etc and more food counters.

It really made me wonder why we just don’t have anything like this at home anymore. I guess in Portugal online shopping maybe isn’t as much of a thing? But surely if these kind of shops existed people would use them? I can’t think of a single shop in Belfast city centre now where you can even buy a saucepan. Never mind a lightbulb or a plate (anyone?) Which kind of forces you online. It’s just a real shame, as I spent absolutely AGES walking around El Corte Inglés. And I made a mental note of stuff I’d return to buy.

Before I knew it, it was 9.30pm and my eyelids were beginning to feel very heavy. I grabbed some sushi and some cold drinks and headed back to my hotel.

I scoffed that down sitting on my bed and then turned in for the night, having set my alarm for 6.30am. Hopefully I’d be up early the next morning to start exploring the city properly!

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