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Published: March 4th 2007
Hmmmm - think the guidebook might have taken a bit of poetic licence there, but more on that later.
So, Adam and I headed to Lisboa, the capital of Portugal, for a weekend break.
Lisboa has everything that you expect of a European city - an old town; a cathedral; a castle on the hill; a metro and a river. It also has the added factor that it is famous for its tiles - either covering the whole facade of a building, or forming smaller patterns around doors and windows. Lisboa is lovely, the people are friendly, there are good views over the town from the hills flanking the centre of town and the nightlife is great (more on that later). It's just that it's not the most amazing European city that I've been to (and that makes the guidebooks that pretend it is kind of hilarious).
The most obvious example of this was the guidebook that said the Praca do Comercio was the most magnificent plaza in Europe. I just couldn't agree. For a start, the road runs around the plaza between the square and the buildings surrounding it. For me, the best plazas are pedestrian only.
is it the most beautiful plaza in Europe?
Also, there didn't seem to be any cafes at which to sit and watch the world go by - one of the best things about the plaza experience. Anyway - I've included a photo of the plaza (although, unfortunately not an overview) so you can make up your own mind.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge (castle) was cool (I love castles). The only bits remaining are the castle walls and tower (maybe destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 that affected much of the town?). You can walk all the way around the castle parapets and check out the views of the city. We also checked out the Se (cathedral); the old town (Alfama); other plazas, including the Rossario (Praca Dom Pedro IV) and Praca dos Restauradores; the Elavador de Santa Justa (designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel, but not quite as impressive - and a LOT shorter) and (a definite highlight) Portuguese tarts (actually called pasteis de nata). One thing we really noticed was the mass of graffiti - some of which was quite cool, but the majority of which was just tags all over all open surfaces. There are quite a few steep hills in town and,
Castles - Love 'em!
Me, pretending to be a princess
as the funicular was being repaired, we managed to score some tired legs by the end of the day.
As an aside, if you don't have a job in Lisbon, there are plenty of was to make money. If you are a child, get yourself a (very) small dog, an accordion, a shoebox and a plastic cup with a self made string handle. Sit the dog on the upturned shoebox, get him to hold the cup in his mouth, play the accordion, and wait for the cash (seriously - we saw 3 or 4 kids doing this - see photo). If you have access to hard 'stuff' and are a man in your 40's or 50's, walk around the plaza sneakily offering marijuana or cocaine to tourists (as an aside - do you think these guys get on it?). If you are a man of the same age, but only have access to soft 'stuff', wander around with four or five pairs of sunnies (being exactly the same as the ones every other bloke is selling). If you don't have access to any 'stuff', find a parking spot on the side of the street and 'direct' people into the
spot hoping for a tip. Only problem is, once you find a taker, you have to search the city for a new spot to claim! Of course, if you can't be bothered with any of that, you can just wander up to people sitting in the cafes with your had out.
Now, for a country that prides itself on its relationship with the sea (after all, the Portuguese discovered that, if you sailed around Africa's Cape Bojador, you would not be destroyed be sea monsters and other perils, but get to India and thereby be able to control the spice/silk/carpet/gold trade from Asia), Lisboa itself does not really seem to take advantage of its location on the River Tagus right near the entrance to the Atlantic (and yep - unlike Brighton, it smells like the ocean). Although I understand there is a new dock area which is pretty cool (we didn't make it there), the parts of the town that extend to the water seem to ignore it, so that where you would expect to see cafes, boardwalks or gardens bordering the river, there are roads, ugly fences etc. Even in Belem (about 1/2 hour on the tram from
It does have a waterfront
But we prefer to pretend it's not there - check out the 'lovely' waterfront lanscaping seen through the turrets of Belem Tower.
the centre of Lisbon) where there are some lovely gardens near the waterfront, the area immediately adjacent to the water is a road where cars are able to park - not so pretty (see picture to right).
Adam and I had a big night out on Saturday night. We headed to the Barrio Alto (upper town). Started with some beer and a couple of glasses of port as we sat at the lookout to get the compulsory sunset photos. We headed out to dinner pretty late (choosing one of the cool restaurants where you pick your fresh seafood from the window) and then checked out a few (okay, okay, more than a few) bars in the area. The Barrio Alto is filled with heaps of little bars (about the size of a living room in a small London apartment) all in an area about 3 blocks long by 2 blocks deep. There is an awesome vibe in the area. The best part is that everyone congregates in the street. You can buy cheaper drinks as long as you are prepared to drink them out of plastic cups on the street. Everyone was really friendly and, before we knew it,
it was 5am!! It is possible we were a little tipsy - check out the video if you need confirmation (either of the crowds or the tipsiness)... To d.o so, click on the filmstrip on the top left hand coner of the page. Ridiculous I know
On Sunday (a little (OK a lot) worse for wear), Adam and I headed to Belem. We climbed Torre de Belem (Belem Tower) - built to guard the entrance to Lisbon harbour. The carvings on the tower are all of maritime related things (again celebrating the Portuguese maritime tradition). In fact, this kind of carving - known as manueline art - is named after King Dom Manuel I, king of Portugal between 1495 and 1521). Belem is also home to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), a ship-like monument celebrating the many famous Portuguese ocean explorers and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (geronimo!!!). Given our lack of sleep (and sore heads), we took things pretty easily, with lots of stops for coffee and greasy food.
All in all, if you are thinking of heading to Lisboa - do so, but for the Barrio Alto nightlife not the 'most majestic plaza in
An essential part of the Portuguese experience
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