The One with Lisbon, Portugal

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Here's a recap of our trip to Lisbon, Portugal! People keep asking me, "Why Lisbon?" Because Rick Steves has a book about it, that's why :) Warning - it's filled to the brim with photos... I'm talkin' almost 130 pics/collages - you try going to Lisbon and not take photos every few feet, I dare ya!

So, Saturday morning we finished packing (note to self: don't forget to bring more than 1 pair of pants on our next trip...), loaded up, and drove to Munich. There are ZERO, I repeat, ZERO(!!!) stoplights between our house and the airport. Isn't that just crazy??? In California there were 33 stoplights between our apartment and my secretarial job I had briefly. We live in the middle of nowhere. No stoplights needed. And I love it. Anyway, we passed cute village after cute village - this is Nabburg. Someday we'll actually go there and walk around it. 
We arrived at the Munich airport and parked the car in an off-site lot. 
Then we made our way to the train station.
Waiting for the train. It was sunny. And warm. Perfect weather.
We had a little hiccup at the check in counter trying to get Chris his boarding pass (they couldn't find his reservation...) but a few phone calls later and we were good to go, got through security, found our gate, and ate some lunch.

When we boarded the plane the captain came on and gave his spiel then said the flight time was 3 hours. I didn't realize there was a time change and had only mentally prepared myself for 2 hours! That was a low blow. But what can you do? Thank goodness for iPads! And it actually ended up being 3.5 hours, who knows why. Bad weather or headwinds or something. On the 2nd picture below I was trying to capture the snowy Alps and the second I pressed the shutter button another airplane flew right under us!

Fox got tired and rested on my lap. Meanwhile Jane was not the happiest of campers.

We landed, found all our luggage, then stood in line at the Tourist Information hub to purchase the Lisboa Card - this card covers all public transportation (as well as trains to Sintra and Cascais) and free entry to many museums and discounts at lots of sights. Definitely worth the savings! Then we took a hair-raising taxi ride to the apartment I found on airbnb - Mouraria Living in Lisbon City for 70 euros a night. It might not look like much on the outside, and the neighborhood is super sketch, but...
the inside is probably the nicest place we've stayed at as far as decor and finishings! So fancy!

Two bedrooms, a little kitchen, nice living room, free wifi, updated bathroom, laundry machine, etc. 
I totally want my future house to look like this apartment. Loved everything about it.
And the VIEW!!!!! Holy moly! Totally worth every penny. 
By the time we got to the apartment and settled in it was dinner time and darkness was quickly approaching. We cooked some pasta, showered the kids, put them to bed, then watched a movie (Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, if you're curious :).

The next morning we woke up to a beautiful rainbow. I mean, really, how picturesque and perfect!
Then we had a bad scare. As we were exiting the building I dropped my camera on the cobbled stone street. I turned it on and snapped a few photos and this is what they looked like. No bueno. I was so upset. 
After messing around with the lens and playing with some buttons to no avail I walked back up to the apartment to leave the camera there rather than lug it around all day for no reason. In one final attempt to fix it, I turned it to video mode and shot a movie. When I turned it back to camera mode it miraculously started working again!!! See:
I have no idea what happened, but I am SOOOOO HAPPY and GRATEFUL that my camera didn't break. Definitely said a prayer of thanks. 

Okay, on our merry way!
Let's talk Lisbon: Lisbon is a ramshackle but charming mix of now and then. Vintage trolleys shiver up and down its hills, bird-stained statues mark grand squares, taxis rattle and screech through cobbled lanes, and well-worn people sip coffee in Art Nouveau cafés. It's a city of faded ironwork balconies, multicolored tiles, and mosaic sidewalks, of bougainvillea and red-tiled roofs with antique TV antennas. Lisbon, Portugal's capital, is the country's banking and manufacturing center. A port city on the yawning mouth of the Rio Tejo, Lisbon welcomes large ships to its waters and state-of-the-art dry rocks. Residents call their city Lisboa (leezh-BOH-ah), which comes from the Phoenician term Alis Ubbo ("calm port").

Romans and Moors originally populated Lisbon but the city's glory days were in the 15th and 16th centuries when explorers such as Vasco da Gama opened new trade routes around Africa to India making Lisbon one of Europe's richest cities. Portugal's Age of Discovery fueled rapid economic growth which sparked the flamboyant art boom called the Manueline period - named after King Manuel I (r. 1495-1521). In the 17th and 18th centuries the gold, diamonds, and sugarcane of Brazil (one of Portugal's colonies) made Lisbon even wealthier.

Then, on the morning of All Saints' Day in 1755, while most of the population was at church, a tremendous underwater earthquake occurred off the Portuguese coast. The violent series of tremors were felt throughout Europe - as far away as Finland. 2/3 of Lisbon was leveled. Fires - started by cooking flames and church candles - raged through the city and a huge tsunami caused by the earthquakes blasted the waterfront. Imagine a disaster similar to 2004's Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, devastating Portugal's capital city. Under the energetic and eventually dictatorial leadership of Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal - who had the new city planned within a month of the quake - downtown Lisbon was rebuilt on a progressive grid plan with broad boulevards and square squares. Remnants of Lisbon's pre-earthquake charm survive in Belém (bay-LEHM), the Alfama (al-FAH-mah), and the Bairro Alto (BYE-roh AHL-toh) district, where we spent the bulk of our sightseeing. 

As the Paris of the Portuguese-speaking world, Lisbon (population 564,000 in the core) is the Old World capital of its former empire - for some 100 million people stretching from Europe to Brazil to Africa to China. Immigrants from former colonies such as Mozambique and Angola have added diversity and flavor to the city. And Lisbon's heritage survives. With its elegant outdoor cafés, exciting art, stunning vistas, entertaining museums, a salty sailors' quarter, and a hill-capping castle, Lisbon is a world-class city. 

I'll be honest, I came to Lisbon not expecting much. But within minutes of walking around I was completely floored with the colorful and tiled buildings. I was literally stopping every few feet to snap away. Again, so grateful my camera wasn't busted!
Charming, charming!
Pics from our 'hood.
A little bit sketchy, but we felt safe enough.
We made our way to the handy Metro. 
Chris and Jane on our first ride in Lisbon. 
We only went two stops and then we took FOUR long escalators up and out.
We emerged into the classy Chiado District - popular for its shopping and theaters.
Fine and fancy shops that remind me of Paris. 
We got a bit lost trying to find the start of our Rick Steves walking tour. But thanks to google maps we got there eventually, and saw some pretty things along the way.
Lisbon's trolleys, many vintage models from the 1920s, shake and shiver through the old parts of town, somehow safely weaving within inches of parked cars, climbing steep hills, and offering sightseers breezy views of the city (rubberneck out the window and you could get seriously injured!).
Our walk started at the Praça do Comérico ("Trade Square") - at this riverfront square bordering the Baixa, ships used to dock and sell their goods. Nicknamed "Palace Square" by locals, it was the site of Portugal's royal palace for 200 pre-earthquake years. After the quake/tsunami/fire, the jittery king fled, never to return. These days government ministries ring Praça do Comérico. Half of it was covered in scaffolding (OF COURSE, grrrrrr) so here's a shot from the internet. 
The statue is of King José I - the man who gave control of the government to Pombal who rebuilt the city after the quake. Built 20 years after the quake, it shows the king on his horse with Pombal looking at their port.
This big arch marking the inland side of the square is Lisbon's Arch of Triumph.
Our family in front of the Praça do Comérico.
Looking out at the river from the square. Lisbon is a mini San Francisco in so many ways, including their very own Golden Gate Bridge. This one is called the 25th of April Bridge. At 1.5 miles this is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. The foundations are sunk 260 feet below the surface into the riverbed making it the world's deepest bridge (had to be world's __"est" something!). It was built in 1966 by the same company that made the San Francisco Bridge - hence the similar look. Originally named for the dictator Salazar, the bridge was renamed for the date of Portugal's 1974 revolution and liberation. Lisbon also has a mini Christ Rei (Christ of Majesty) à la Rio de Janeiro.
At this point, rather than continue on the walk, we decided to head out to Belém for reasons I can't remember so we found a bus stop.
We passed right under the 25th of April Bridge. Very cool.

Three miles west of downtown Lisbon, the Belém district is a stately pincushion of important sights from Portugal's Golden Age when Vasco da Gama and company turned the country into Europe's richest power. Belém was the send-off point for voyages in the Age of Discovery. Sailors would stay and pray here before embarking. The tower welcomed them home. The grand buildings of Belém survived the 1775 earthquake so this is the best place to experience the grandeur of pre-earthquake Lisbon. The modern-day president of Portugal calls Belém home. 

King Manuel erected this giant, white limestone church and Monastery of Jerónimos which stretches 300 yards along the Lisbon waterfront as a "thank you" for the discoveries made by early Portuguese explorers. It was financed in part with "pepper money" a 5% tax on spices brought back from India. Manuel built the church on the site of a humble chapel where sailors spent their last night ashore in prayer before embarking on frightening voyages.
Since most everything is closed on Mondays we visited on Sunday along with the rest of Lisbon's tourists :) The line to get into the cloisters was ginormous.
The details of the monastery are immaculate. 
Fancy Monastery of Jerónimos.
Before we got in line for the cloisters we went inside the church. 
The Manueline style is on the cusp of the Renaissance. The space is more open than earlier medieval churches. Slender, palm tree-like columns don't break the interior space (as Gothic columns would), and the ceiling is all one height. Motifs from the sea hide in the decor. The sea brought Portugal 16th-century wealth and power, making this art possible.
Details of the interior of the church.
Nearly everything here survived the quake except the stained glass - the replacement glass is from 1940.
The tomb of Vasco da Gama. 
On the night of July 7, 1497, Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) prayed for a safe voyage in the small chapel that stood here before the church was built. The next day he set sail from Belém with four ships and 150 men. He was armed with state-of-the-art maps and sailing technology such as the carved armillary sphere - a globe surrounded by movable rings designed to determine the positions of the sun or other stars to help sailors track their location on earth. Da Gama's mission? To confirm what earlier navigators had hypothesized - that the ocean recently discovered when Bartolomeu Dias rounded Africa was the same one seen by overland travelers to India. Hopefully da Gama would find a direct sea route to the vast, untapped wealth of Asia. He and his crew arrived home to Lisbon in September of 1499 after 2 years and 2 months at sea. The few spices he returned home with were worth a staggering fortune and Portugal's Golden Age was lauched. Da Gama died on Christmas Eve 1524 in India. 

After the church we waited in the long line and purchased tickets to the cloisters. 
These restored cloisters are the architectural highlight of Belém. 
The lacy arcade is Manueline; the simpler diamond and decorative rose frieze above the top floor is Renaissance.
Pretty pretty!
In 1960 the city honored the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator by rebuilding this giant riverside monument (Monument to the Discoveries) which had originally been constructed for the 1940 World Expo
The 170-foot concrete structure shows that exploring the world was a team effort. The men who braved the unknown stand on the pointed, raised prow of a caravel, about to be launched into the Rio Tejo.
For €3 I took an elevator up to the top for amazing views of Belém.
Looking down at the marble map - a gift from South Africa.
The marble map shows that by 1560 Portugal's global empire had peaked - they were tiny but filthy rich and had claimed (but didn't actually occupy) the entire coastline of Africa, Arabia, India, the Philippines, south China, and Brazil. 
But all of the wealth was wasted on Portugal's ruling class who neglected to reinvest it in the future. Easy money ruined the traditional economy and stunted industry, hurting the poor. Over the next four centuries, one by one, Portugal's colonies were lost to other European nations or to local revolutions. Today only the (largely autonomous) islands of the Azores and Madeiras remain from the once-global empire.

At the top of the Monument to the Discoveries, looking at the Golden Gate Bridge, I mean, 25th of April Bridge, and the Christ the Redemeer, I mean, Christ Rei.
It was quite squishy up at the top and I had to squeeze my way through to get photos. Gotta do what you gotta do!
Then we walked to the Belém Tower, passing a colorful boat dock on the way.
Perhaps the purest Manueline building in Portugal (built 1515-1520), the white Belém Tower protected Lisbon's harbor. Today it symbolizes the voyages that made Lisbon powerful with carved stone representing ropes, Manuel's coat of arms, armillary spheres, and shields with the cross of Manuel's military, called the Order of the Cross. This was the last sight the sailors saw as they left and the first as they returned loaded with gold, spices, and diseases.
We didn't go in or up, the view of it was beautiful enough! 

At this point it started to downpour (but who could tell from the pictures?! The weather was SO RANDOM). We took a taxi to McDonald's for lunch and by the time we were finished the rain had passed.
We walked by the Casa Pastéis de Belém café - the birthplace of the wonderful custard tart called pastel de nata. Since 1837 residents have come to this café to get their tarts warm out of the oven. This place's popularity (check out that queue of people!) stems mainly from the fact that their recipe is a closely guarded secret - supposedly only three people know the exact proportions of ingredients.
And that was Belém in a nutshell! We took the bus back to where we had left off with our morning walk and continued on. 

We could see the Cathedral Sé and attempted to walk to it, but for the life of us we couldn't figure out which street took us there so we gave up. Kind of looks like Notre Dame from afar. Yes? No? Maybe?
After the disastrous 1755 earthquake the Baixa district (the flat valley between two hills) was rebuilt on a grid street plan. The uniform and utilitarian Pombaline architecture (named after the Marquês de Pombal, the prime minister who rebuilt the city) feels almost military. That's because it is. The Baixa was built by military engineers who had experience building garrison towns overseas. The buildings are all uniform with the same number of floors and standard facades.
They were designed to survive the next earthquake with stone firewalls and wooden frameworks featuring crisscross beams that flexed. The priorities were to rebuild fast, cheap, and earthquake-proof. Many of the buildings here are austere with no tiles - this was the architectural style adopted immediately after the quake, when only the interiors of buildings were tiled. In the Portuguese colony of Brazil people found that tiles protected against humidity and eventually (by the 19th century) tilework was adopted as a form of exterior decoration here in Lisbon. 

The characteristic black-and-white cobbled sidewalk is uniquely Portuguese. These mosaic cobbles were first cut and laid by 19th-century prison laborers. 
The Church of St. Nicola - the church-like facade was allowed but the entire green-tiled side is disguised as just another stretch of post-quake Baixa architecture. Clever.
Rococo-ish mint green random building! Love it!
Tiled buildings are my favorite.
Can't. Stop. Taking. Pictures.
The Praça da Figueira ("Fig Tree Square") - this was the site of a huge hospital destroyed... you guessed it... in the earthquake. With no money to replace the hospital the space was left open until the late 1880s when it was filled with a big iron-framed market. That structure was torn down decades ago leaving the square like this. 
Looking up at the castle from the Praça da Figueira. The statue is Portugal's King John I on a horse.
Confit Nacional sweet shop. Chris went inside to check out their pastel de nata but came out empty handed.
We walked a little further to Rossio - Lisbon's historic center and still the bustling cultural heart. 
Given its elongated shape, historians believe the Rossio was a Roman racetrack 2000 years ago; these days, cars can circle the loop instead of chariots. 
The column in the center honors Pedro IV - king of Portugal and emperor of Brazil. 
The colonnaded National Theater at the end of the Rossio.
We walked a little further to another square - the Praça dos Restauradores. 
This square is dedicated to the restoration of the independence of Portugal in 1640, after 60 years of Spanish domination. The obelisk in the middle of the square, inaugurated in 1886, carries the names and dates of the battles fought during the Portuguese Restoration War in 1640. 

From here we took the Elevador da Glória funicular up and up and up. Lisbon has several of these funicular trains.
Inside the funicular.
So glad we didn't have to walk up this steeeeeep hill! Another way Lisbon is similar to San Fran - all the hills.
Leaving the funicular we turned right, and admired lots of colorful buildings. 
After about 100 yards is a little park with fantastic views of Lisbon.
This tile map guides you through the view. Here's Chris studying the map.
In the park a bust honors a 19th-century local journalist (founder of Lisbon's first daily newspaper) and a barefooted delivery boy. This district is famous for its writers, poets, publishers, and bohemians.
Loving this aqua tiled building. Thanks to Chris for indulging me in a little photoshoot :)
Tiles, tiles, and more tiles!
We followed the main street (Rua Sāo Pedro de Alcântara) downhill a couple of blocks.
Love this alley.
Love this door and windows.
Fox visited the statue of a friendly lottery ticket salesman and rubbed the ticket for good luck.
Sick of tiles yet? Sorry, there's lots more :)
Check out this display - tubes stuffed with thread that kind of look like marbled rods! Very anthro-like.
Then we walked to the Elevador de Santa Justa. It was covered in scaffolding so here's a pic from the web:
In 1902 an architect - perhaps inspired by Gustav Eiffel's tower in Paris - completed this 150-foot-tall iron elevator connecting the lower and upper parts of town. The elevator's Neo-Gothic motifs are an attempt to match the ruined church near its top.
I walked to the top of the elevator and lo-and-behold what did I see but another beautiful rainbow over lovely Lisbon!
More views from the top of the elevator.
We called it a day at that point and headed home. Here's Janey on the metro back to the apartment. She looks beat :)
We made spaghetti again for dinner then settled in for the night, happy after a long and wonderful day!

On Monday we took a day trip to Sintra - that'll be my next post so stay tuned.

On Tuesday we woke up bright and early to try and pack in all of the things we missed.
Heading uphill towards the São Jorge Castle.
This area is called the Alfama - the colorful sailors' quarter that dates back to the age of Visigoth occupation, from the sixth to the eighth centuries AD. This was a bustling district during the Moorish period and eventually became the home of Lisbon's fisherman and mariners. The Alfama's tangled street plan is one of the few features of Lisbon to survive the 1755 earthquake. It helps make the neighborhood a cobbled playground of Old World color. 
At the Largo Santa Luzia square we admired the panoramic view from the small terrace. 
Looking the opposite direction up towards the castle. | The huge building dominating the neighborhood is the Monastery of São Vicente, constructed around 1600 by the Spanish king, Philip II, who wanted to leave his mark with this tribute to St. Vincent.
I'd love to sit here and sip a cuppa hot chocolate.
The São Jorge Castle entrance and gate. It didn't open until 9am and the security guard refused to let me walk 100 feet to take a picture of what I'm sure would have been a magnificent view of Lisbon. Oh well.
A bit about the castle, just because we could see it from everywhere we went, including from our apartment windows: This much-renovated structure was first built by the Moors in the 11th century. After Portugal's first king Afonso Henriques beat the Moors in the 12th century the castle began its three-century-long stint as a royal residence. The sloping walls - typical of castles from this period - were designed to withstand 14th-century cannonballs. In the 16th century the kings moved to their palace on Praça do Comérico - where they lived until the 1755 earthquake - and this castle fell into ruins. What remains today was mostly rebuilt by the dictator Salazar in the 1960s. 

Instead of exploring the castle, Fox and Jane had fun chasing around a peacock.
Then we meandered back down through the charming streets with cute shops and cafés and peaceful lanes. 
Rick Steves has a walk that goes down through the Alfama to the river, but there are a LOT of stairs and what with the stroller plus we were short on time before we had to go to the airport and there were other things we wanted to see more... we opted to take a rain check.
We headed to the Church of São Domingos instead. 
A center of the Inquisition in the 1600s, this is now one of Lisbon's most active churches. The evocative interior - more or less rebuilt from the ruins left by the 1755 earthquake - reminds visitors of that horrible All Saints' Day Sunday when most of the city was at Mass and the earth rolled.
More interior pics of the Church of São Domingos.
And another of the outside of the the Church of São Domingos.
Then we took the funicular back up the super steep hill.
We reached the small square called Largo Trindade Coelho with the São Roque Church. 
Built in the 16th century, the church of St. Roque is one of Portugal's finest Jesuit churches.
The painted wood, false-domed ceiling is perfectly flat.
The acoustics here are top-notch, important in a Jesuit church where the emphasis is on the sermon. 
The side chapels are rich and very decorative. 
Gold galore! Fits right in with the times - gold is IN!
Continuing on our walk.
Looking up at the ruins of the Convento do Carmo.

Red door entrance to the Convento do Carmo. We had wanted to visit this when we were in this part of town on Sunday, but it was closed. Thankfully, we were able to squeeze it in on Tuesday.
Inscription engraved next to the entrance.
After the convent was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, the Marquês de Pombal directed that the delicate Gothic arches of its church be left standing - supporting nothing but open sky - as a permanent reminder of that disastrous event. 
Wicked cool.
We headed back down to the metro and enjoyed a pastel de nata - finally! :)
A collage of just a few of the tiled buildings. So colorful, makes me happy!
We got back to the apartment, quickly packed up our things, and then headed out to find a taxi. Luckily one passed us as we were heading down the hill and whisked us off to the airport in a jiffy. We had plenty of time before our plane took off so we found a kid's area and let Fox and Jane run around. This time we flew on Lufthansa and it was a million times better than the flight out on TAP. Portugal. And about an hour shorter - how does that work? We landed early, took the train back to our car, and drove two hours home. Long and fun day!
 Bye bye Lisbon, until we meet again!


  1. I love the tile buildings and colorful homes. Who'd have thought Lisbon would have been so pretty and enjoyable? FUN! And I'm so glad your camera didn't die. You lucked out there!

  2. How fun! LOVING all the photos!!! Glad your camera is ok!!!!!

  3. I was pleasantly surprised by Lisbon, as well. Very photogenic city. Our apartment was very nice, great choice!

  4. So many pictures, but definitely worth it! Thank goodness your camera started working again!! Who knew Lisbon was so pretty!!!

  5. How do you remember all the little details from your travels!? Gorgeous pics, thank you for the awesome history too.

  6. Thank you so much for learning all of this about our country history! I'm glad you're camera didn't broke you took so many beautiful photographs.
    I hope you liked the Pastel de Nata, it's my favorite cake, with cinnamon it's even better!!


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