I’ve been trying to get to Lisbon since 1986. After 30+ years of waiting, I finally made it this week. What a treat, and I’m glad I waited so long.
Portugal Is Everywhere
Portugal has a long history of conquering and being conquered. It’s very proud of its original borders and its brotherhood/uncle relationships with Spain and Brazil. But nothing speaks to its appearance on the world scene better than its decorative tile.
Intricate decorate tile appears everywhere. But what’s most impressive is that a mosaic of black and white cobblestones grace all the pedestrian and public areas like lace on a wedding dress. The ongoing pattern throughout the city reminds me of how Portugal still lightly covers the world in an elegant, sometimes subtle, sometimes overstated way. Top that with good food, great wine, and optimistic people, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun walking adventure.
If you’re short on time, take the Free Walking Tour (I tipped 20 Euro for two) from the folks with the yellow recycled bags. I did just that. For three hours and 6 km, we ambled through Portuguese history as told through the eyes of the Lisboners. Starting in Baixo-Chiado, we made our way through Bairro Alto, by the “earthquake church” (Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel), through Alfama, and up to the castle. I could give you a map, but the best way to walk Lisbon is to get lost. So get lost.
Don’t Take Number 28
But make sure you stop at the neighborhoods above, making your way to the castle. If you insist, take the old rickety number 28 down the hill. Everyone does it, but it’s not really fun. (Get a green bus ticket at the local store for 6.15 Euro and use it for 24 hours.) Get off old rickety at the Plaza Commercial and the shopping area north of Rua Arsenal.
Eat, Eat, Eat
Grab some paella. Any place will do, as it’s all good and overpriced. You’re paying for the atmosphere, and it’s worth it. Once you’ve had your fill of yummy paella and delicious wine, take the tram 15 to Belem. Get off at the first Belem stop (there are three), so you can walk by the national guard and say hello. Unlike the English national guards, they have a sense of humor (rooted in the Carnation Revolution).
Pastries in Belem
Walk a couple of blocks in Belem, and you’ll come to Lisbon’s version of New Orleans Cafe du Monde, Pasteis de Belem. I’m sure Lisbon’s was probably first, so sorry about that. Anyhow, go inside this 400-table delight, get an espresso and two “de natas.” These little gems are light, flaky pie-shaped crusty yummies filled with warm custard. Sprinkle cinnamon and white powdered sugar on them, and you’ll never leave Lisbon.
At some point, you’ll have to leave. So, walk across the street toward the river and check out the ode to conquistadors, also known as Padrão dos Descobrimentos. This giant statue has amazing sculptured work of men demonstrating their professions. See if you can name all 20 or so of them.
Go Back to Fado
When you’re finished thinking of the impact of the Portuguese conquistadors on the world, grab the tram back to Lisbon or take a long walk enjoying the many parks along the way. Catch the sunset and then continue your night into the wee hours of bar life in Barrio Alto or grab your singing voice and head to Alfama for Fado. If you know me, you know I went to bed. 🙂
~See you out walking…