When we landed at the Lisbon airport (after flying RyanAir from Paris) it felt like ‘coming home.’
This was my 5th visit to this beautiful country, where I not only been a tourist several times, but also called it ‘home’ for 3 months over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday several years ago.
This time Joyce and I hopped in an Uber and were whisked to our lovely and huge FeelingLisbon apartment in the Lapa neighborhood. This area is out of Centro and away from the crowds. We found a great little mini-market and several really outstanding restaurants, with the highly- rated Come Prima, just a few steps away from our front door.
We could have learned the bus system, but since an Uber was only a €2 charge into Centro, we opted to get around this way in the 2 -1/2 days we had in town.
After unpacking (we each have our own room and our own bathrooms!) we headed to Terreiro do Paço, or “the palace’s square,” where the royal palace stood for over two centuries until 1755, when its was destroyed by the Great Earthquake.
This massive riverfront square is the perfect way to enter the downtown area. I loved watching Joyce’s face as she walked under the towering arch for the first time and was swept up and into the noise, street performers and vendors, restaurants and pastisseries which fill the main blocks-long central walking street.
From previous visits, I knew the first street to our left was filled with 100’s of restaurants whose ‘greeters’ were standing in front to welcome you with menu in hand and details of each delightful dish you could enjoy while dining at their establishment.
After being stopped numerous time, we chose a restaurant that had mussels and octopus on it’s menu. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner of octopus salad, mussels in a white wine sauce and frites accompanied by a nice Portuguese red wine, panna cotta for dessert and a small glass of port. We barely managed to find our Uber and get back to our apartment before collapsing into our beds for a much-needed good night’s sleep!
The next morning we had scheduled our much-loved free walking tour of Lisbon. This time we chose a Free Tours tour of the Mouraria and Alfama areas, the oldest neighborhoods of the city that survived almost intact to the great earthquake of 1755. This is the birthplace of Fado, the Portuguese form of singing which is generally known for how expressive in nature it is, as well as being profoundly melancholic. Think ‘ripping your shirt and tearing-your-hair-out, she/he left me for another’ songs!
We started our tour in what I call the wavy-tile square. If you stare at it long enough, it will really make your tummy or head start to weave. All tile in Lisbon, whether on the streets, plazas, or sides of buildings, is hand-cut and hand-laid.
We headed off with Marco, our stringy-haired, gangly guide, whom we thought would be a bust but turned out to be extremely knowledgeable on the history, past and present, of his home town.
The above photos are a glimpse of just a few of the wonderful things we saw on this 3-hour tour which started in Centro and ended at the top of one of the 8 hills that make up Lisbon and is topped by a castle!
The photos show you just how steep the stairs are to climb up into the neighborhoods and what the city has installed to make that soooo much easier – escalators!
The street art, bright yellow trolleys that chug along throughout the city, laundry hanging on clotheslines outside the windows, complete buildings covered in beautiful tiles, and the people of the neighborhoods in pictures on the walls and peering out their windows as the many tourists stroll by make up the color and sounds and flavor Portugal’s capital city.
I found the photos of the old people that an artist had taken and then plastered along the walls on the winding neighborhood streets to be the most interesting. These spotlight those that had lived here for years and are losing their homes to the gentrification of the neighborhoods.
We took a survey before we checked out of the apartment and gentrification was a topic they asked us about – since Airbnb and companies such as FeelingLisbon – are one cause of this shift in property values and how the property is now being used, leaving the people pictured priced out of the neighborhoods where they and their families have lived for generations.
We concluded the walking tour at the top of the hill overlooking the city with the castle as a backdrop and the river glittering below. We were tired and thirsty and very hungry and fell into the first good seafood restaurant we passed for lunch. As you can see, our choice was a good one!
The day of this tour was a Sunday and therefore most places outside of the city Center are closed, including restaurants. After a lovely nap (we do enjoy these!) and doing our laundry, we thought our only choice for dinner would be picking up some sandwich meat and cheese from the mini market. But no, said the very friendly owner of the market, who took us in hand and lead us down and around the corner to where we had the best quesadillas I have ever eaten, anywhere, and a huge laugh at the paintings that adorned the walls, considering where Joyce and I met and where I have called home for the past 2 years!
Our last excursion in Lisbon was to hire a very cute (Paolo) tuk-tuk driver to take us to the Belém (Portugese for Bethlehem), the most southwestern parrish of Lisbon. A leafy residential area blessed with wonderful parks and gardens, Belém is forever associated with the era of Discoveries, a period of maritime glory when Portuguese navigators embarked on long and perilous voyages to chart unknown seas and map new lands. It was from here, in 1497, that Vasco da Gama embarked on his historic expedition that led to the opening of a sea route to India.
From palaces and churches decorated like fancy wedding cakes, Belém is the the place to stop for the famous Pasteis de Nata-flaky pastries crammed with custard cream and lightly dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon, enjoy locals dancing and singing in native costumes, see the crypt of Vasco de Gama, view the magnificent sculpture Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) honoring Henry the Navigator and the other brave souls who headed out across unknown seas to find new lands to discover and conquer. From this side of the Tagus River, you also have a great view of the towering Cristo Rei statue of Jesus with open arms blessing the city – which is so similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro , Brazil.
There is only one photo left to show you what we thought of our too-short stay in Lisbon…..
…as very early the next morning we headed to the stunning Lisbon train station and our 3-hour trip to the next stop on our journey – Porto!
Until next time….