Road trip through Portugal: (I) Lisboa

The plan is to make a trip of twelve days through Portugal. Of course not enough time to see the whole country but we will certainly get a good impression. I have been in Portugal before but it was only for a 2 day business trip to Lisboa which is precisely where we want to start our trip. We are planning to stay here for a few days, then we will drive to the Algarve. We need the sun on our bodies as our summer in Western Europe has been rather cold and full of rain. After the beach days, we will move north with planned stops in Fatima and the Douro region. We will finish our trip in Porto.

Lisboa / Lisbon

Our hotel is in the neighborhood of Alfama, the oldest part of town. Many small and narrow streets whereby a first impression is that it is somewhat run down. However, it is a lively neighborhood with many small restaurants and cafe’s. There are tourists but it remains to be a local neighborhood. As we arrived late in the afternoon we first explored the sites that are close to our hotel. We kicked off with visiting the Lisboa Sé Cathedral.

The Sé Cathedral is (very) old and was built when Lisboa was reconquered during the second crusade in 1147. It has huge walls to support the roof. Of course it is a catholic church but it lacks the statues of saints, it is rather plane from the inside. This in contrast to the Igreja of Sao Roque. This Jesuit church is nothing special from the outside but very beautiful from the inside.

At the end of the first day we walked up to the Castelo Sāo Jorge. Quite a climb because it has been built on Lisboa’s highest hill. It is worthwhile the trip. We have seen many castles over the years and I was somewhat worried that it was going to be another castle full with exhibitions of old guns and armor. It was certainly not. This castle is cool because it just stands there. No living quarter, just walls and towers plus a wonderful view over the city. Moreover, one can climb all the walls, no restrictions.

No day in a new city is complete without tasting some of the local cuisine. Portugal is well known for it Pastéis de Natas, an egg custard tart pastry with some cinnamon on top. Every pastry shop, bakery and restaurant serves it and with good reason; it is delicious.

The Portugese kitchen is known for its fish dishes, mainly bacalao (cod), sardinhas,(sardines) and octopus. We started our food experiences with bolas de bacalao and roasted sardinhas. For the fish affectionate a true delight, for a more conservative fish eater, better stick with the bacalao.

The second day we went to the neighborhood Belem. Our first stop was the Tower of Belem, a 16th century fortification and a point of embarkation and disembarkation for the Portugese explorers. It is located on the banks of the river Tagus, in fact it stands in the river. It is a good looking tower.

The monument “Pasāo dos Descobrimentos” or in english language the Monument to the Discoveries is walking distance from the Tower of Belem. This gigantic monument is in honor to the Portugese seafarers who went out in the 15th and 16th century to discover new territories. Adventurous men like Vasco da Gama (first European to sail around Cape of Good Hope) and Fernāo de Magelhāes (first one who sailed with his crew around the world) are carved in stone next to kings and people of the clergy. The monument is well done as it is built in the form of a 15th century ship. We have a soft spot for Magelhāes because in 2019 we traveled all the way down south in Chile and Argentina to Patagonia where we stood at the Straights of Magelhāes, (to read more about this trip see our earlier blog about Patagonia).

Only across the street from this monuments stands since 1501 the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos / Monastery of Jerónimos, an Unesco World Heritage site. It is gigantic and very impressive.

This monastery contains among others the tomb of Vasco da Gama. It is a good place for taking pictures and like the castle it is rather bare from the inside so one can focus on the beauty of the building.

Lisbon is a pretty town, just by walking around there is lots to see. Full of interesting street views, small coffee shops and restaurants and of course the local means of transportation, the tram. We have not figured out yet how to work the bus and tram system so we walk everywhere which in a hilly town takes energy.

For our last full day in Lisboa we choose to visit some less popular sites. First we stopped by the Mosteiro Sāo Vincente, basically we were interested in this church as it is only a few minutes walk from our hotel and it is very large. The church is rather plain but with a beautiful altar. We were lucky that someone was playing the organ. The monastery is very pretty with some of its walls covered with tiles and surprisingly with only a handful of tourists. We visited the chapel and climbed to the roof for a good view over parts of the city.

The large tile plates in this monastery are quite something and rather typical for Portugal. We found out that there is a museum specialized in tiles, the so called Museu Nacional do Azulejo. Not really on the beaten path but only a 30 minute walk from our hotel.

The outside of the museum is not impressive, to say the least and we were not sure what to expect as we have never been before to a tile museum. The museum is not all that large but what they have is really beautiful.

As a bonus the museum (which is also an old monastery) had a chapel which is absolutely stunning.

After almost three days of mostly walking through the city, it was time for some eating and drinking. We went to the Time-Out Market, a hip place with many interesting food stands.

So our visit to Lisboa is coming to an end, we enjoyed our stay. It is a beautiful city with very friendly people. Thanks to its catholic heritage, the city is blessed with wonderful churches and monasteries but the city is much more than that. It is the cafe’s, the small streets of Alfama, the squares of the Bario Alto, the many statues of forgotten kings, the delicious fish dishes and the nice weather. Lisboa, we will be back! However, first we will travel south to the beaches of the Algarve.

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