Well past midnight the train pulled into Lisbon’s main station. My partner picked up our backpack; I handled the stuffed tote. Walking out onto the dark and quiet street the late August night felt warm and sticky. In our levis and t-shirts we could easily have been mistaken for a couple of American hippies. Without a reservation our hope was to find a place open and willing to give us a room for the night.
Next to the station we spotted a hotel ablaze with lights, a beacon of hope at that late hour. The elegant entry matched the name, Avenida Palace. With four stars etched into the glass door, I knew that a room would be far more than our meager budget could afford.
Approaching the night receptionist we shyly requested a room. He took one look at us, asked to see our passports and driver’s license and questioned why we were checking in so late. We explained that we were touring Europe for the first time and had made a last minute decision to visit Lisbon. After scrutinizing us from head to toe for the second time, he told us that a room could be made available, but we would have to make a full cash payment before he would give it to us. Grateful and relieved, my partner pulled the money out of his wallet and made the payment. As suspected, it was far above our budget.
We followed a winding staircase to the second floor and walked into a room that outdid all the Europe on Five Dollars a Day pensions at which we had been staying for the past month.
In spite of the hour, we could not resist the luxurious shower with hot water. After, we hopped into the comfy bed with satin sheets and fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the goose-down pillows.
The next morning with breakfast included we made our way to the classic elegant dining room. Graciously greeted by the staff we were escorted to a table next to a tank of oversized lobsters waiting their demise at dinner that evening. The sumptuous breakfast served by a waiter in a tux, of Portuguese style eggs benedict, smoked cod, cream pastries and berries would be more than enough to sustain us throughout our one day tour of Lisbon.
Forty years later and early this morning, we flew into Lisbon’s sleek, starkly designed, white walled airport. In the waiting room, a dapper man in a dark pin stripped suit held a sign with our name. When we identified ourselves, he greeted us with a welcoming smile, picked up my large suitcase and lead us through a door to a glossy black Mercedes.
The crawl through the morning rush hour brought us to a quiet street, Rua Dezembro. The handsome driver dropped us off a block from the Art Inn Hotel as no cars are allowed on the rua. After checking in, we decided to acquaint ourselves with the neighborhood. A surprise awaited us two blocks later.
Times may have changed, but not the Avenida Palace.