Tag: Lisbon

Castle and Alfama

Castle and Alfama

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.

Tram 28 approaching a hill.
Some fellow passengers and the pickpocket sign toward the front of Tram 28.

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.

Another tram car near the Graca Stop.
The twin bell towers of the Church of São Vicente of Fora which dates from 1147. Like many buildings in the area, the 1755 earthquake devastated the church.  The dome on the right is the National Pantheon.
A typical building in the Alfama District.
A building in the Alfama District covered in decorative ceramic tiles.  Since the street here is so narrow, the small red light near the lower left is a signal for uphill traffic to stop.  A vehicle is on the way down.
Detail of the ceramic tiles.

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!

Peeing? Here? Really??
The urinal, complete with a privacy shield…
Another couple walking toward the castle.
Another beautifully tiled building as we neared the castle.
A huge beer bottle in front of a tourist shop.


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.

Approaching the Arco do Castelo, the arched gate to the castle grounds.
Detail of the Arco do Castelo.
The Tagus River is below the walls of the castle.
Some buildings near the entrance to the castle grounds.
View of the 2.27 kilometer (1.4 miles) April 25 Bridge from the castle.
A canon pointing out toward the Tagus River.
A ceramic tile mural detailing several of the sights visible from the castle.
One can easily see the Praça do Comércio (Commercial Plaza) from the castle.
This canon is guarding the Baixa District of the city…
The red-tile roofs of the Baixa District below the rampart.
Looking toward the Convento do Carmo (Carmo Convent) in the center-left of the frame. It is a ruin of a medieval convent, founded in 1389, in the Baixa District.  It remains in ruin as part of the 1755 earthquake.
A canon with the bridge in the distance.
Looking from the rampart toward the castle.
Our hotel is somewhere out there…


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.

A couple admiring a sculpture in the castle gardens.
Detail of the sculpture.
The bridge leads to the entry to the Castelo de S. Jorge (St. George Castle).
Part of the south wall of the castle.
The Portuguese flag flying from one of the towers.
Detail of the flag.
The flag of Lisbon flying above one of the towers.
Looking at Lisbon through the castle wall.
Beginning her tightrope walk from one tower to another.
A little more than halfway across the space.
One of the guys walking in the opposite direction.
The walkway at the base of the towers.
The twin bell towers of the Church of São Vicente of Fora with the Tagus River in the background.

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.

A feral cat on the castle grounds.
A peacock and peahen.
We may have stumbled upon the royal court?
A maiden helping to straighten part of the woman’s headdress.
Trying to get the maiden’s attention.
The maiden joins the procession.
More couples walking by our position.
The last of the group.
A sculpture in the gardens.

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.

El Magnífico and his coins for sale.
El Magnífico (Flurin) cutting his next coin.


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 gate at the exit from the castle grounds.
A wall and flags near the east entrance to the castle.
A typical street near the castle.
A photographer and tourists in the area near the castle.
The entry to a shop near the castle.
A narrow, four-story home near the castle.  Note the two red doors have different addresses.  I am not certain how that works out for the residents…
Marta working on jewelry in Erva Loira.
Carnival leftovers in between the cobblestones.
A larger tiled building.

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.

More people heading toward the castle.


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.

Ceramic tiles on display at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum).
Dating from 1560, this depiction of St. Anthony is the oldest we saw in the museum.
A coat of arms.
This scene is called Our Lady of Life.
Detail of a field of tiles.
Detail of a field of tiles.
One of the hallways is currently a work area.
A depiction of St. Mark.
A depiction of St. Luke.
The stairs to enter St. Anthony’s Chapel.
View from the pews toward the altar. The altar space is visible through the large arched opening.
The barrel and coffer ceiling of the chapel.
A tile mural in St. Anthony’s Chapel.
The raised ambo in the chapel.
The very ornate altar.
Looking up at the cupola in the chapel. This is above the altar area.
A statue of Mary and Jesus on the altar.
A different view of the statue.
Detail of one of the murals.
The vestry of the chapel.
Some of the tiles in the vestry and an inscription. I believe the inscription may refer to two kings being buried here in 1627 and 1628.
Detail of some of the tiles in the vestry.
Individual motifs from the late 1700s.
A depiction of Alexander fighting the Persians (1745).
Paintings in the upper choir of the chapel.
A large painting of Mary and Jesus in the upper choir. Yes, that is a skull and bones at the lower left.
Detail of the skull and bones in the upper choir.
A painting in the upper choir.
A beautiful mosaic.
Columns in the courtyard of the museum.
The upper choir. The opening at the far end of the room is toward the chapel and altar.
Closer detail of the set of bones.
The chapel as seen from the upper choir.
A painting of the Last Supper in the upper choir.
A display area in a room off of the upper choir.
An ornate Nativity scene.
The wood inlaid floor.
Tiles from Oceanario de Lisboa (1998).
Section from Avenida de Cueta (1970-72).
Butterfly and Ears of Corn (1905).
Detail from Butterfly and Ears of Corn (1905).
Our Lady of Life as seen from an upper viewing area.
A wood and gold fountain dating from the second half of the 18th Century.
Jesus in the Midst of the Church Doctors (1760).
A ceramic tile map of the Commercial Plaza in Lisbon.  Because of the grid pattern, one knows the tiles date from after the 1755 earthquake.
Repetitive Pattern Relief (2006).
Detail of Repetitive Pattern Relief (2006).

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.

First Time in Lisbon

First Time in Lisbon

Lisbon, Portugal – February 17, 2012


Leslie, Tyler, and I departed from Madrid at about 06:30. We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal at about noon Madrid time, 11:00 Lisbon time. It was an easy drive. We all found it odd that it seemed to be so much greener once we crossed the border into Portugal.

As we entered Portugal, we found ourselves on a toll road. There was very little traffic on the way. As we drove along, we noticed we were going through a forest. Leslie noticed the bark on many of the trees was missing to a height of about eight feet. That is when it dawned on me that they were cork trees. If we had not been on a toll road, we would have stopped to try to get a closer look at one of the trees.

We were about 30-minutes out of Lisbon when we came to the toll booth. A cool 27€ (US$32.95) later we were back underway. Heading north from the toll booth we soon found ourselves at another toll booth. Thankfully the charge was only about 3.35€ (US$4). That toll road took us onto and across the Ponte 25 de Abril (April 25th Bridge). The bridge is a little more than two kilometers (1.24 miles) long. It looks almost exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Completed in 1966, I found out later that the builder of the bridge was the same company that built the Golden Gate Bridge. The name of the bridge commemorates the revolution of 1974. The revolution brought the 48-year reign of dictator Estado Novo to an end.

We continued our drive to the AC Hotel Lisboa. It is part of the Marriott brand. As soon as we checked in and dropped off our luggage, we took a taxi to Praça dos Restauradores (Restaurant Square). We arrived there and walked into the tourist information office. We went there specifically to buy a LisboaCard. The LisboaCards provide access to all public transportation. Also, they offer discounted or free access to many of the local attractions and museums. For 48 hours, one card cost 29.50€ (US$36). We thought that was a good bargain.

In the center of the Praça dos Restauradores is a large obelisk. Erected in 1886, it marked Portugal’s independence from Spain in 1640. While walking around the plaza, we were able to find a magnet for Leslie’s collection as well as a Lisbon guidebook. For lunch on the square, we opted for the Hard Rock Café. We must have all been starving, hardly speaking during the meal. We each enjoyed our sandwiches. We gladly paid the 54€ (US$65.90) and moved on.

Crossing Praça dos Restauradores (Restaurant Square) to the Hard Rock Cafe.
The obelisk near the VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel.
School children dress for Carnaval.
The interior of the Hard Rock Cafe.
A Cadillac overhead.
Tyler and Leslie trying to decide on what to have for lunch.
A Beatles photograph in the restaurant.
Leslie and Tyler observing the many decorations in the restaurant.
A Who jacket.
A panoramic view of the ceiling.

We walked south out of the plaza.  We immediately saw the Santa Justa Lift, our destination.  Along the way, we walked by the train station and through Praça Dom Pedro IV.

The small side-street of Tv. de Santo Antão.
The uniquely framed doors to Estação Rossio (Rossio Station).
Looking toward Praça do Rossio (Rossio Square). The castle of St. George is atop the hill in the distance.
The obelisk in Praça Dom Pedro IV (Dom Pedro IV Square). Pedro IV was briefly the King of Portugal. He was also the Emperor of Brazil.
A seagull and some pigeons at the square.
One of the water fountains in the square.
The water fountain with the obelisk in the background.
Detail of the fountain.


Ultimately we arrived at the Santa Justa Lift. An apprentice of Gustave Eiffel built the elevator in 1902. At 45 meters (148 feet), the top platform provides some breathtaking views. This attraction was the first place at which we were able to use our LisboaCard. Because of the card, our ride on the elevator was free. The elevator car was spacious, probably ten feet by ten feet. We rode up with about a dozen other people.

Once the elevator car stops, one may choose from two circular staircases, each leading up two levels to the uppermost viewing platform. From the platform, the view of the Baixa District of Lisbon is spectacular.

Our first view of the Elevador de Santa Justa (Saint Justa Lift).
The operator of the lift stands in the corner.
Looking north from the elevated observation deck.
A panorama of the view to the east.
A panorama of the view toward the Tagus River.
The Convento do Carmo as seen from the observation deck.
Beautifully ceramic tiled buildings along Rua Áurea (Golden Street).
View to the north through the railing of the observation deck.
Rua Santa Justa as seen from the observation deck.


Departing the elevator, we walked a couple of blocks east to the Rua Augusta, a pedestrian street with lots of shops, restaurants, and street performers. Along the way, we stopped at a small ceramic shop. We bought a little holy water font that is a reproduction of a 15th Century style. Leslie also purchased a beautiful dish towel. She plans to use it as a centerpiece on our kitchen table.

We stopped at a street café, Roman’s. We each had a drink and watched the world. Very near the café was one of the most unique street performers I have ever seen. The man wore clothing and makeup that made him appear to be a bronze statue. The amazing part was that his feet were about one foot above the ground. His left hand was on a cane that did touch the ground. Other than that single point, there were no visible means of support. I am not sure how he balanced himself in such a manner. On the ground in front of him was a poster size piece of paper. Among other things, it recorded three different records he held in the Guinness Book of World Records. The most recent of which was from 2003; he stood in his position for more than 20-hours straight!

Cork postcards for sale along Rua de Santa Justa.
Looking back toward the Santa Justa Lift.
A lot of pedestrians on Rua de Santa Justa.
Motorcycle and moped parking.
A man photographing the Santa Justa Lift.
Vendors selling flowers on Rua Augusta.
Café tables in the middle of Rua Augusta.
A couple window-shopping at a tailor shop on Rua Augusta.
The amazing floating man on Rua Augusta.
A side view of the amazing floating man.


We left him and continued our stroll along Rua Augusta to the Praça do Comercio (Commercial Square). That plaza is enormous and right at the edge of the Tagus River. To get into the plaza, we walked under the Arco da Rua Augusta. It is a striking architectural feature. In the center of the square is a giant bronze statue of Dom Jose I.

We spent a little time at the water’s edge listening to a local band. They were entertaining. We left there and walked to the Terreiro do Paço Metro station. From there we made it back to our hotel for a well-deserved nap!

Pedestrians walking by shops on Rua Augusta.
A ceramic tile “sign” above a door on Rua Augusta.
The Valentines Day display still in the window on Rua Augusta.
People near the Arco da Rua Augusta at the end of the street. Walking under the arch, one enters the Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square).
A seal on the wall near the Fashion Museum.
The Arco da Rua Augusta as seen from the Praça do Comércio.
A statue of Dom Jose I in the Praça do Comércio. He reigned as King of Portugal for nearly 27 years in the 18th Century.
Leslie and Tyler watching the people in the Praça do Comércio.
The statue of the king with the arch in the background.
The 25 de Abril Bridge over the Tagus River.
Tourists at the Cais das Colunas (Columns Dock).
In the Terreiro do Paço Metro station.
A train entering the Terreiro do Paço Metro station.

For dinner, we went to the Restaurante zé Varunca. I came up with that idea based on a recommendation from the travel guide, Lonely Planet. The restaurant was a little off the beaten track. It was in kind of a seedy-looking part of town. In fact, without the guidebook taking me there, I probably would not have entered the restaurant. Boy am I glad we went inside!

The rather dubious-looking Restaurante zé Varunca.


The server brought us warm bread in a cloth bag to keep it warm. It tasted like sourdough bread. Then the server brought a platter of items from which we could select a starter. We chose the black olives. To drink, Leslie and I wanted the red wine. The server poured the wine into a ceramic pitcher and brought it to our table. The pitcher and the plates were all rustic, each one with the name of the restaurant.

The decor in the restaurant was a hunting lodge look. There were open beams in the ceiling. On the walls were several copies of publicity articles for the restaurant over the years. At the head of each table, on the wall, was a small mural made of tiles. They were each about two tiles by four tiles. Each depicted a different country scene. Hanging under the beams were old streetlight fixtures.

For dinner, Tyler had monkfish/shrimp soup. He and Leslie both thought it was tremendous. Leslie had lamb chops. I had lamb (very unusual for me) in rice with a rich brown broth. The dinner reminded us of what one might have gotten many years ago at a hunting lodge.

After dinner, the check was rolled up and placed in two shotgun shells, one 20-gage, and one 12-gage. We found that unique. Our server for the evening, Orlanda, said we could keep the rounds. Our bill came to about 55€ (US$67). I do not think any of us finished our main course. They were just too large. Like Lonely Planet, I recommend the restaurant.

Once back at our hotel, I realized I left my prized baseball cap at the restaurant. Leslie and I scrambled back to the restaurant to retrieve the hat. Reunited, she and I returned to the hotel for the night.


A trio of Judy Garland posters.
Detail of the poster. Below the name of Judy Garland reads, “the end of the rainbow.”
The Picoas Metro station.
It seems large lizards emerge from buildings at night…
A 2012 Nissan GT-R.
The colorful Barclays building.