One of the iconic yellow trams which transport locals and tourists across the city. Cheap, clean and reliable and a great way to see this wonderful city. Take the number 28 tram for the classic Lisbon tram journey which screeches and rattles its way through the popular tourist districts. In this picture is also one of the hundreds of tuk-tuks ready to take tourists on a tour, costing rather more than the tram.
There’s no doubt that Lisbon is very hilly and our apartment was right on the top of one of the hills by the Sao Jorge Castle. We loved this area. In the day it teems with tourists rolling through the many souvenir shops or queuing to go into the castle and at night you’re transported back in time as you walk along the quiet, dimly lit cobbled streets. There was a full moon the night we arrived.
Day one. First objective …to find a bakers for croissant and bread and a little grocers for fruit and yogurt. No problem at all. Our little apartment had a terrace which was one of the reasons we chose it. Perfect for eating breakfast al fresco or enjoying a glass of wine later. The terrace backed onto the wall of the castle which has several very noisy residents. It wasn’t unusual to see a peacock looking down on us from the wall or an adjacent tree, fortunately they couldn’t get out of the grounds! The thing about peacocks is that they are very noisy. I always thought that at night time birds go to roost and sleep. These delightful creatures sqwark all the time …morning, noon and night. No we didn’t get used to it! Our friend had the bedroom at the front of the building so she couldn’t hear them – we could!
Enough about peacocks, we had a city to explore. First stop was to walk down the hill to the the cathedral known locally as the Se de Lisboa. This Roman Catholic church is the oldest in the city and has an impressive Gothic cloister.
Tour of the cathedral done, it was time for a sandwich and a beer before walking down to the waterside and the impressive Commerce Square.
This area is buzzing with tourists and locals. We thoroughly enjoyed just sitting by the river Tagus soaking in the atmosphere watching the boats go by and the antics of the seagulls. After half an hour or so we decided it was time for a little retail therapy …at least that’s what we girls thought.
You just walk through The Rua Augusta Arch and you’re into the main shopping centre. One of the most interesting shops was the window of a traditional bakers which was full of those delicious Portuguese custard tarts, Pasteis de Nata. More about these later. Having checked out the many shoes shops and making a mental note to come back to several we carried on walking to the ruins of the Carmo Convent.
You walk through a little door by the cash desk and suddenly there’s the impressive ruins of the convent in front of you. This ruin was one of the many victims of a devastating earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755. As well as the ruins which in themselves are fascinating there is a museum housed in the apse and nave of the convent which still have a roof over them. The museum is full of an eclectic mix of objects, tombs and tiles. The party of school children in there found some of the objects very amusing … This ruined convent is well worth a visit and a great place to take pictures.
After all the walking we’d done it was time to catch a tram back up the hill. Arriving at our stop we were definitely flagging and needed to re-charge our batteries. One last thing we wanted to do though before heading back to our apartment was to walk across the road to look at the view over the city. It was spectacular in the evening sunshine.
Even though we knew there was lots more to see in Lisbon we decided on our second day to catch a train to Cascais which is on the coast just west of Lisbon. It takes about forty minutes, mostly whizzing through the suburbs with almost every wall covered in graffiti. In our carriage we were serenaded by a group of students singing Queen songs – they were really good. Couldn’t help wishing that we get this at home on our trains sometimes!
We expected the town to be touristy, what we hadn’t expected was all the tacky shops and oh my goodness, the buskers! A mixed lot! The tourist information website describes Cascais as … ‘an elegant fusion of decorative 19th century architecture and modern tourist facilities’. Yes there is some interesting houses especially away from the main street but overall we weren’t that impressed. We hadn’t gone to flake on the beach and we didn’t go into The Castro Guklmaraes Museum or walk far along the coast so we didn’t really do the place justice. Don’t be put off by my lack enthusiasm though.
Back on the train and this time we got off at the station nearest to the Belem Monument. An iconic structure built in 1940 celebrating the achievements of Portuguese explorers, it’s truly magnificent. There is a lift which takes you to the top for a modest price.
Just a stone throws away from the monument is the home of the iconic and delicious Pasteis de Nata. Pasteis de Belem is the place to go for Portugal’s famous custard tart. Flaky pastry and unctuous custard is a winning combination. This bakery and cafe have been making the Pasteis since 1837 and it appears the interior dates back from that time too. We may have missed out on a visit to the nearby Monastery on account of the huge numbers of tourists outside but we weren’t going to visit Belem and not buy Pasteis de Nata.
Clutching our delightfully package treats we caught a bus back into the city and then took a cable car up to the castle and our apartment.
After all that it was time for a siesta. We needed to charge our batteries once again before before going out that evening to a famous fish restaurant down near the sea front. Should we have booked a table …yes of course we should.
Love this picture, top left of a traditional Portuguese twelve stringed guitar. It’s associated with the music genre, Fado. I took it whilst the street busker was chatting to someone. The guitar was just lying on the ground so I quickly took a picture with my phone. Fado is a form of singing which is very expressive and mournful and I would add, haunting. The music is often associated with pubs and cafes and originated in Portugal in the 1820’s. We noticed that restaurants advertising Fado singing were quite expensive which did put us off. I wish now we had tried one but as we will definitely be going back to Lisbon we’ll not miss out on this again. There’s also a whole museum devoted to Fado.
Walking the back streets of Lisbon at night is so enjoyable and feels safe. There’s lots of atmosphere, graffiti and interesting murals. It was a shame we had to wait outside Maria Catita restaurant for almost an hour for a table but we were given a drink along with all the other tourists waiting. Quite a party really except the wine was terrible! My lobster dish, pictured bottom right was delicious and well worth waiting for. This popular restaurant fully deserves its reputation but if you go, book a table!
Well we’re halfway through our week in Lisbon so I think it’s a good time to finish the first half of this Blog. Lots more pictures to come including what we got up to in Sintra and our visit to the Lisbon Oceanarium. I hope you’ll stick around to read the final part!