Towers, Tapas, and Being a Tourist…..Day 2 and 3 in Lisbon. (Part 3)

Right under our accommodation’s window was the meeting point of the yellow bus hop-on-hop-off tour so I spent the second day touring the city on the bus. Lisbon is so big that there are two bus routes about two hours each. One takes in the east side of the city, and the other takes in the west side. I did both and was immersed (via a pair of headphones) in the history of this old city.

It basically gave me an overall lay of the land and an idea of the areas I really wanted to explore the next day.

Barrio Alto is an area of Lisbon that comes alive at night. So Friday evening we decided to take a gander up there and see where the night took us. First up, a glass of yummy Portuguese wine on our rooftop balcony……(we really lucked out with our accommodation!)

Barrio Alto is made up of tons of these tiny little hole-in-the-wall restaurants/ bars serving tapas and drinks. People were spilling out into the streets from every doorway and the place was oozing with atmosphere. It was raining and we had been aimlessly wandering trying to find a place that could take us in and feed us. The naive Irish girls not realizing everyone in Lisbon ate LATE in the evening! We stumbled upon one of the many tiny places with 8 or 9 tables crammed into it, and they were able to squeeze us in.

A combination of delicious traditional Portuguese tapas was promptly ordered. This picture does not do the food justice! Get in our bellies!

Confession time: two kids later and I have genuinely turned in to a Granny! I made it to midnight before hopping in a taxi and embracing my bed with open arms. The other two ladies made it to half four in the morning. (Warriors!) Barrio Alto is the place to go if you are not a granny like me!

While doing the bus tour I had loved the historic glimpses I had caught of the Belem area and decided to properly explore the attractions there on our final day. Basically, there are three big attractions within walking distance of each other: The Jeronimos Monastery, The Torre de Belem, and The Padro dos Descobrimentos Monument.

Our initial plan was to come back at the end and tour the inside of the Jeronimos Monastery, as I had heard great things. Unfortunately, we ran out of time in the day. (You will see why in a minute!) But we did catch the impressive outside. This will be on my to-do list for the next Lisbon trip.

Trip Advisor lists the Torre de Belem (Tower of Belem) as Lisbon’s number one attraction. So this one seemed a no-brainer for us.

Guess how long we waited in the line before getting in???

Yep…..two hours!!! (It was a Saturday morning.) We found out later that we had been complete rookies. If you buy the combined monastery and tower tickets online in advance, you can totally by-pass the line and walk right up to the front. *Faceplant in palm.* I guess the silver lining was that I got some good shots of the tower while waiting…..and waiting……and waiting…..

The Torre de Belem is a little 16th century fort sitting on the Tagus River. Once we eventually got in we spent an hour exploring. The main entrance floor has a cannon room which leads to a little underground dungeon for prisoners.

There are five or six floors above this with, I think, a total of 93 steps. Be aware the steps get quite narrow- not ideal if you are claustrophobic.

There are some beautiful nooks and crannies within the tower.

Not to mention the views from the outside.

All in all, a really lovely experience, barring the two-hour wait.

We then strolled down the pier to the PadrĂ£o dos Descobrimentos Monument. This is a 52-meter high monument celebrating the Portuguese exploration era. It is made up of 33 statues with Henry the Navigator taking the stage front of the monument. It actually looks like the rest of them are trying to push him into the river!

The only female on the monument is Queen Felipa of Lancaster (good old Henry’s mom). Seems it doesn’t matter what era you’re in- women are underrepresented as leaders in the workplace! Good woman Felipa! Way to represent!

We decided to spend our final evening wandering the hills of the charming Alfama area. The narrow streets climb uphill to spectacular views and then fall clumsily into little valleys before taking aim at the high ground again.

We found a quirky, tiny, authentic Portuguese restaurant that had hats hanging from the ceiling and yet again enjoyed the most delicious tapas.

A beautiful way to end a highly enjoyable trip to Lisbon! Thanks for a fantastic time Lisboa! Until next time!

(Some of the photos courtesy of my traveling companion AM Kelly)

Cathedrals, Religious Art, Trolleys and Aimless Wandering! Day One in Lisbon. (Part 2)

I think the thing that surprised me most about Lisbon is how big this city is! It is definitely one of the bigger cities I have been to in terms of geography. We were there for three days, and could easily have spent another three days there and still had tons to do and see.

Between flights and getting checked in on the first day, it was 2 pm before we were free to start exploring and discovering the lay of the land. At this stage, I was approaching hangry so we basically stumbled into the first place we saw down by the river on the train station side and had a lovely lunch.

We had a fabulous view of the April 25th bridge. Weird name for a bridge I know but the story behind it is interesting. It’s a 2278 meter bridge that spans the River Tagus (the longest suspension bridge in Europe) and resembles the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was originally named the Salazar Bridge after the Portuguese dictator at the time. Can you guess the date Antonio Salazar was overthrown? Yup, you guessed it! The date of the bloodless revolution was April 25th, 1974, and the bridge was renamed accordingly.

After lunch, we began the aimless wandering that always accompanies Day One in a new unknown city. We happened upon this mysterious door that led into a dark tunnel which preceded up a steep hill….

…..and then all of a sudden a little yellow trolley appeared!

Well! If that was not an invitation to hop on! Turns out it literally takes you on a short and sweet ride up this very steep hill and that’s the end. The view at the top is really lovely!

These trolleys are all over Lisbon, the most famous being the Number 28 which takes you around the stunning, hilly Alfama area which is home to the famous Sao Jorge Castle. Thing is, the lines for this tram are reaaallllyyyy long (well over an hour at peak time). Some of the locals told us the number 12 and 25 take you on a very similar route sans the tourists and long lines.

There is a lot of religious history in Lisbon. For 300 years the Moors, who were Muslim, ruled the country. You catch glimpses of these Islam influences here and there, especially in some of the buildings.

Since Afonso Henriques drove the Moors out, Lisbon has become predominantly Catholic and ornate cathedrals and intricate basilicas litter the streets. The art inside these buildings is phenomenal and at times slightly terrifying. We spent much of our first day wandering into these churches and immersing ourselves in the art. The ceilings of these churches are particularly masterful.

There are so many to explore but my favorite was a little church called Igreja de Sao Roque (Church of Saint Roch). There was a huge earthquake in 1755 which pretty much decimated Lisbon. This church was one of the few to escape relatively unscathed. It is basically made up of tiny rooms with extremely elaborate religious art pieces.

There is a small room in the back which is made up of paintings and cabinets from top to bottom, including the ceiling.

Finally, the terrifying room was saved until the end. I forget the name, but I nicknamed it the Catholic Guilt Room.

We finished the day off with some famous Lisbon custard tart desserts- Pasteis de Nata- and delicious Portuguese white wine in an outdoor cafe looking on to Praca do Comercio.


Initial Thoughts on Lisbon- Part 1

A few months ago, over Whatsap, I was telling two great Irish friends about the impending sabbatical I would be taking. These two girls and I had many fantastic traveling adventures together in our early twenties- the best being a stint in Edinburgh. Now, many moons later, one of said buddies suggested, “D’ya reckon you could leave the kiddos with your folks for a few nights, and we take a trip somewhere fun?” Ummmm- is the Pope catholic? And so a plan was hatched to spend a long weekend (3 nights) away in Lisbon, Portugal.

How to describe Lisbon? Lisbon is a city rich in European history with beautiful old buildings, narrow winding streets, and culture oozing out of every nook and cranny.

At the same time there’s modern touches everywhere, woven in to the fabric of this ancient city.

This is a city that has a ton of character and a quirky side that draws you in.

The dilapidated stands side by side with the beautifully in tact which actually adds to the character and allure of Lisboa. There are cranes and signs of restoration all over the city.

Even the craftmanship of the paved streets and charming squares awed me!

The airbnb we stayed at was in a terrific location. It overlooked a square called Praca da Figueira and had the most amazing views from its rooftop balcony. The castle was right behind us.

Lisbon is huge and there is so much to do and see. Tomorrow I’ll break down the three days and share our adventures.

(Some of these pictures come courtesy of one of my traveling companions-AM Kelly.)