Castle and Alfama
As I am preparing for the day’s activities, I got to thinking about my perceptions of Lisbon so far.
Two things strike me about the town; the color and abandoned buildings. The predominant colors are white buildings with red tile roofs. There is a real clean simplicity to that palette. Interspersed among the white buildings are buildings with amazingly beautiful tile facades. The second thing that struck me are the number of dilapidated and abandoned buildings. I can only wonder if this is a result of the current economic crisis. 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. It is too bad. If more of them were kept up, this would be an amazing city.
Since Tyler was still feeling under the weather, Leslie and I went out by ourselves today.
After breakfast, we headed to the Martin Moniz Metro stop. When we came back above ground we found ourselves in a very beautiful plaza. Our plan was to take Tram 28 up near the Castelo de Sao Jorge (Castle of St. George) and then stroll through the Alfama neighborhood.
We finally found the correct stop to catch Tram 28. The single car is from about the 1920’s, made mostly of wood. I believe the capacity of the car was only 20 people. I found it interesting that inside the car was a fairly large sign warning one to be on the lookout for pickpockets.
The car wound its way through some incredibly narrow, steep, cobble-stoned streets. We were both very glad to have taken the tram because of the inclines. We got off of the tram at the Graca stop. From there we could begin to see the amazing views.
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 urinol. Sure enough, below the sign and behind two very small panels was a urinal! In my mind, one must really need to go to stand there in public. Luckily I had no need!
We continued around the corner and bought our tickets. They were discounted by 25% because of our LisboaCards. We entered the castle grounds and were immediately struck by 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 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.
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 a flag for the City of Lisbon. I decided to take the stairs to the top of the wall to get some photos. 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 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 lady 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 the other direction. As soon as he was done 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 hens. 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 some presentation. I was able to get several photos.
We then began to make our way to the exit. Near the exit we came across el Magnifico. The sign near him read “el Magnifico, Moedas do Mundo, Coins of the World.” His name was actually Flurin. He was about 30 years old. Beside him on a display board were numerous coins from which he had sawn out part of the design. For example, on a U.S. quarter, he would saw around the eagle, removing everything else. That would just leave the eagle and the circular edge. We bought one for Tyler that he had 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 narrow and most maze-like streets we have ever encountered.
On our walk we came across Erva Loira. The name of this store translates to Blonde Herb. I don’t really 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 most of them on! 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 20’s. She spoke very good English. She said she had lived in Barcelona for several years.
Her jewelry creations were very unique and colorful. Leslie ended up with a necklace which was made with a very 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 came across 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. I started us with a plate of fried “stuff.” On the plate was some sort of pork, fried, and made in the shape of a sausage. In addition 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 liked the shrimp.
That was followed with a bowl of Portuguese soup. The soup had a light colored broth and contained navy beans, two types of sausage and some port fat. It was very tasty. For the main course I had a sanwich mixto (ham and cheese sandwich) and Leslie had a BLT. Both of them were served on large slices of bread. They were both toasted much like a pannini.
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.
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 housed in a convent which was founded in 1509, Convent of Madre de Deus. The vestry, upper choir and St. Anthony’s chapel are still intact and absolutely amazing to see.
From there 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 really enjoyed the wine we were served, Vinha das Garcas, Vinho Tinto 2008. After dinner, it was back to the hotel for our last night in Lisbon.