Lisbon, Portugal – February 19, 2012
As I prepared for the day’s activities, I thought about my perceptions of Lisbon so far.
Two things strike me about Lisbon, Portugal, the colors and the abandoned buildings. The predominant colors are white buildings with red tile roofs, a real clean simplicity to that palette. Interspersed among the white buildings are buildings with amazingly beautiful ceramic tile façades. The second thing that struck me is the number of neglected and abandoned buildings. One can only wonder if this is a result of the current economic situation in Portugal. On second thought, I don’t think so. Many of the abandoned buildings are very, very dilapidated. For example, a roof may be caving in; an exterior stairway may be falling off; etc. That indicates the buildings were unoccupied much longer than just during the economic situation. It is too bad. If more of them were kept up, this would be a fantastic city.
Since Tyler was still feeling under the weather, Leslie and I went out by ourselves today.
After breakfast, we headed to the Martim Moniz Metro stop. When we came back above ground, we found ourselves in a charming plaza. Near a water fountain in the square flew three flags; the Lisbon city flag, the European Union flag, and the Portugal flag.
The plaza at Martim Moniz.We planned to take Tram 28 up the hill to a point near the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George) and then stroll through the Alfama neighborhood to the castle. It took a while, but we finally found the correct stop to catch Tram 28. The single tram car dates from about the 1920s, made mostly of wood. I believe the capacity of the tram was only 20 people. It very much reminded us of the small tram we rode in Port de Sóller. I found it interesting that inside the car was a reasonably large sign warning one to be on the lookout for pickpockets.
The tram wound its way through some incredibly narrow, steep, cobble-stoned streets. We were both delighted to have taken the tram because of the inclines. Walking that route would have been a real challenge. We got off of the tram at the Graca stop. From there we could begin to see the fantastic views of Lisbon.
We were not quite sure which way to go to get to the castle, but we finally stumbled across a directional sign. Of course, since the castle sits atop a hill, the direction we had to take was straight up! We finally approached one of the castle walls. It was there that I saw by far the most unusual sign I have ever seen. The sign was metal, flat, and attached perpendicular to the wall. The figure was of a little boy peeing! Below that was the word urinal. Sure enough, below the sign and behind two minimal panels, there was a urinal! In my mind, one must really need to go to stand there in public. Luckily, I had no need!
Nearing the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George), we found the Arco do Castelo. This particular gate is at the southern end of the castle grounds. The date above the arch reads 1846, so, by European standards, the entrance is a mere architectural babe.
We continued around the corner and bought our tickets to enter the castle. They were discounted by 25% because of the LisboaCards we purchased when we arrived in town. We entered the castle grounds and immediately fell in love with the panoramic views. One could see the 28-meter-tall statue of Christ the King, the April 25th Bridge, the Praca do Comercio, and the Baixa District.
The Ponte 25 de Abril or April 25th Bridge looks very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. No doubt that is because the same company constructed the April 25th Bridge, completing it in 1966.
Many of the views from the castle vantage points include the Tagus River, with headwaters in the northeastern mountains of Sierra de Albarracín in Spain. Some 1,007 kilometers (626 miles) later, it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon.
The Baixa District is a beautiful section of the city, laid out in a grid. That is new because of the extensive damage of the 1755 earthquake virtually leveling the town. Today’s estimates rate the quake between 8.5 and 9.0, very massive. The shake, accompanied by a devastating tsunami decimated Lisbon. The rebuilding effort settled on a grid system. Today, it is effortless to walk through the district on wide, boulevards; many of them pedestrian-friendly.
The castle itself is a ruin; however, there is a restaurant and a couple of museums. The overall castle site is quite large. Inside the castle, one can go up into and on top of the towers. As well, one can walk along the castle walls. From those heights, one can see virtually the entire city.
The Romans fortified the hilltop on which sits the Castelo de São Jorge as early as 48 BC. That was the point at which the Romans referred to Lisbon as a municipality. Some of the current fortifications date from the 10th Century. The castle may very well qualify as the oldest site we have ever visited.
Walking through the grounds, I went through an archway and saw the flag of Portugal flying on the wall. I stopped for a photo. Then I saw the flag of the City of Lisbon. I decided to take the stairs to the top of the wall to take some pictures. Once on top of the wall, I decided I would go to the top of the tower flying the Lisbon flag. As I looked up those stairs, I was surprised to see several people with what looked like some climbing gear. It looked like several ropes went over the side. I thought they must be repelling from the tower. I walked to the other side of the tower and discovered a tightrope stretched between two towers. Shortly after that discovery, a woman in her early 20’s clipped a safety line on the tightrope and walked across. I thought it was stunning. I went to a different vantage point and watched a man walk back in the other direction. As soon as he finished, they quickly dismantled everything and ran away. From that, I surmised their “show” was not legal.
We left the castle, but we were still within the compound walls. We were surprised by the number of feral cats that were there. We also saw a peacock and a couple of peahens. As we continued along, we came across a group of about 15 men and women dressed in medieval garb. They were waiting to enter a museum as part of a presentation. We would have gone into the museum and witnessed the show/performance; however, since it was undoubtedly going to be in Portuguese, we decided we would understand very little. For that reason, we opted out.
We then began to make our way to the exit from the castle grounds. Near the exit, we came across el Magnífico. The sign near him read “el Magnífico, Moedas do Mundo, Coins of the World.” His name was Flurin. He was about 30 years old. Beside him on a display board were numerous coins from which he had sawed out part of the design. For example, in a U.S. quarter, he would saw around the eagle, removing everything else. That would leave the eagle and the circular edge. We bought one for Tyler that Flurin made into a key chain.
When we left the castle grounds, Leslie and I began to wind our way through the narrow streets of the Alfama District. We have been to many places in Europe with narrow streets. However, I have to say these were the most cramped and most maze-like streets we have yet encountered.
On our walk, we found a store, Erva Loira. The name of this store translates to Blonde Herb. I don’t understand that since the vast majority of the store dealt in handmade jewelry. What was not jewelry was handmade clothing and belts. We went into the store. I believe Leslie looked at every single piece of jewelry in that store and she tried on most of them! The store was owned by and the jewelry designed by the young lady that helped us, Marta. She was a slender lady in her mid to late ’20s. She spoke excellent English. She said she had lived in Barcelona for several years before coming to Lisbon.
Her jewelry creations were unique and colorful. Leslie ended up with a necklace made with a thin silver wire. At either end is a long silver bead capped off with a red bead.
A block or two past the jewelry store we found a restaurant, Bellissimo Cafe. We decided to sit there in the sun and have lunch. It was one of the best lunches we have ever had. We started with a plate of fried “stuff.” On the plate was some sort of fried pork in the shape of link sausage. Also, there was fried shrimp and fried cod, both of which had been finely minced, battered, and then fried. I liked all of them. Leslie only enjoyed the shrimp.
Following the “stuff,” we had a bowl of Portuguese soup. The soup had a light-colored broth and contained navy beans, two types of sausage, and some pork fat. It was delicious. For the main course, I had a sanwich mixto (ham and cheese sandwich), and Leslie had a BLT. Both of them came on giant slices of bread. They were both toasted much like a panini.
While we were at the restaurant, people of several nationalities stopped to eat; Great Britain, Finland, France, and Poland. The main waiter was able to speak to everyone in their native language. He was quite a character.
Enjoying lunch at the Bellisimo Café.
When we finished lunch, we hailed a taxi very near where we had entered the castle. We went to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum). The museum is in a convent dating from 1509, the Convent of Madre de Deus (Mother of God). The museum first opened in 1965. Our Lonely Planet guidebook lists the museum as a “Don’t Miss” site. WOW, is that ever an understatement! The vestry, upper choir, and St. Anthony’s Chapel are still intact and amazing to see.
We are fortunate to have seen many churches in our travels. St. Anthony’s Chapel ranks as the most ornate. The gold-gilded altar, the scale of the construction, the ceramic tile murals, and the numerous paintings mean there is hardly a piece of the plain wall visible.
Since the museum is noted as a “Don’t Miss” site in the Lonely Planet guide, my advice to visitors is not to try to cram it into a day with other sightseeing. To truly explore all the museum has to offer, one should plan to spend most of the day.
When we left the museum, we headed back to the hotel for a siesta.
For dinner, the three of us went to Pizza Hut of all places! Leslie and I enjoyed the wine we had, Vinha das Garcas, Vinho Tinto 2008. After dinner, it was back to the hotel for our last night in Lisbon.