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Europe » Portugal » Lisbon & Tagus Valley » Lisbon
August 16th 2007
Published: August 24th 2007
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Portuguese Tiled FrescoPortuguese Tiled FrescoPortuguese Tiled Fresco

Tiled frescoes like this one are commonplace in Portugal. They are often blue and white too. This one is inside the Sao Bento train station.
If you think the title of this blog is a bit strange, I chose it because it acknowledges both my current location, Portugal, and perhaps the greatest email thread ever, and the people who were involved in that thread who will all be reading this (!). That email thread will forever be etched into Roskill Alumni folklore. So I thought this title was entirely appropriate. If you have no idea what I am talking about, then don't worry it's a bit of an in-joke - forget about it and read on!

La Coruña isn't the most well connected place, and as such the only train we could take down to Porto was a very late one that would arrive at 10.30pm. Not wanting to repeat the same mistake as we did in La Coruña, we called ahead to the hostel in Porto to tell them that we would be arriving late, and to hold our reservation. Davies had what he was going to say on the phone written down on paper in Portuguese, but luckily it was not necessary, as the hostel reception spoke perfect English ;-)

Border controls are well and truly a thing of the past, as
The Streets Of PortoThe Streets Of PortoThe Streets Of Porto

A bit rougher than Spain.
we didn't even know we were in Portugal until we stopped at the first station and saw all the signs were in Portuguese.
Signage in Portugal is a bit funny - English is usually provided but Spanish is not. Locals are also loathe to speak Spanish to you - they would rather speak English. It's all part of the Spanish-Portuguese divide that stretches back hundreds of years and many wars. The Spanish view their neighbours as poor cousins who can't talk properly, and the Portuguese view the Spanish as being insufferably arrogant.

When we arrived at our hostel, we found that for a mere 17€ a night we basically got a fully furnished twin hotel room - ace! It was a bit crusty though, but that didn't matter.
Things are very cheap here - you can get a Big Mac combo for 4.25€, Magnums are 1.40€, and you can quite easily feed yourself in one of the countless "pastelerias" (bakeries) for 3€ or less. Portugal is by far the most value-for-money country I have visited in Europe.
The reason why things are so cheap here is that Portugal is a relatively poor country - more run-down buildings, countless stray
Avenida dos Aliados, PortoAvenida dos Aliados, PortoAvenida dos Aliados, Porto

More like Paris than Portugal.
animals and dirty, littered streets. But this only adds to the charm of Portugal and its raw, gritty atmosphere.

Porto, is much like this - it is very interesting to see washing hanging out of windows right next to the main cathedral and tourist attraction. Geographically, there seems to be no separation between rich and poor, no rich area and poor area - it's all in together, which is pretty cool.

After the best sleep I've had on this entire trip so far, the first sight of interest on our exploration of the city was Avenida dos Aliados. A beautiful church sits atop it, and the avenue resembles Paris more than Portugal - it was beautiful. Renaissance-style buildings lined the cobblestoned streets with a huge traffic island in the middle of it adorned with sculptures.
We passed through Avenida dos Aliados on the way to the Torre dos Clerigos, an old church tower, that afforded some great panoramic views of the city, after yet another claustrophobic climb to the top - people must've been pretty small in those days.
We then went for a stroll through the Ribeira district, which is actually a World Heritage Site, and it's
Torre dos ClerigosTorre dos ClerigosTorre dos Clerigos

The church tower we went up in Porto
maze of little alleyways and steep streets.
Porto is built onto the hills and is alongside the furious currents of the Douro River. Back in the days when men were specifically hired to transport goods along the river, many of them actually lost their lives. There are some mean currents on that river, which would be really awesome to kayak.
Down at the bottom of the hill, is the waterfront alongside the river, which is packed with bars, restaurants and river cruises.
On the other side of the river are the factories that produce the port wine that Porto is named after, with the names of the port makers adorning the factory rooves in huge letters.
After the Portuguese lady I bought ice cream from made fun of my attempted Portuguese pronounciation, we headed up onto the Ponte de Dom Luis I, a tram bridge that soars above the Douro and provided postcard snaps of the Douro and the city.

It was a Monday night, so things seemed pretty quiet in the evening, but nevertheless we looked up a restaurant in the Lonely Planet that served northern Portuguese specialties.
Finding Restaurante Romao, among several streets that were under construction
RibeiraRibeiraRibeira

A skinny alley in Porto's old (and protected) Ribeira district. Somewhat spoiled by Davies' corny pose ;-)
(I swear every single place I've visited in Europe is either having the main road totally relaid or a famous sight restored - it's got to be done I suppose, but is a nuisance nonetheless) was a bit of a mission and once we found it we were well famished.
The modest surroundings reminded me of a dinky Vietnamese restaurant back in Auckland, but the food was well priced and well nice.
I ordered stewed tripe, a Porto specialty, which was like a curry without the spicyness, and based on potatoes rather than rice. It tasted good, and came with a humongous spoon half the size of my face - I didn't know what was up with that. The meal was washed down with the local beer, Super Bock, which was dry and bitter. The whole meal cost 7€.

Overall, I liked Porto - different to all the other places I've been as I appreciated the realness of the city - it isn't dolled up like a lot of other cities are, and is presented as is - and I liked that aspect of it.

The next day it was off to the country's capital, Lisbon, but not
The Douro & Porto's WaterfrontThe Douro & Porto's WaterfrontThe Douro & Porto's Waterfront

Great view from atop the Ponte de Dom Luis I.
before a visit to the Museum of Wine for some free tastings. This unfortunately was not the case, although you could buy a bottle for 7€. We passed it up, but we did learn a bit about the Douro's history and the strong trade ties Portugal has with Britain. Most of the portmakers here, are indeed British brands. Anglo-Portuguese relations are actually pretty healthy, although the English may not think so after being knocked out of the last two major football tournaments by Portugal.

Our hostel in Lisbon, once again was not really a hostel per se, but more like a hotel. We had our own room and bathroom though annoyingly, we didn't have a sink in our bathroom. Grrr.
We then went for a walk around Lisbon.
One thing I noticed immdiately is that Lisbon is much more cosmopolitan than Porto was. Lot's of Africans (mainly Angolans), Indians and the odd Asian. I guess that is what happens in the big cities.

Portugal's capital reminds me much of New Zealand's capital - very hilly. Up in the hills, the city is nice - most of the government, university and financial buildings are located up here and there
Praça do ComercialPraça do ComercialPraça do Comercial

Main square in Lisbon.
are many parks here that are well looked after.
Like Wellington, Lisbon also has a harbour, and down by the water is the main square, Praça do Comercio. A huge memorial arch marks the entranceway to Lisbon's main shopping district and tourist trap, Baixa.
It is here we encountered the first of about twenty hash pushers that offered us marijuana during our stay here in Lisbon. We were both a little surprised by this, but apparently it all comes from Morocco. Not sure what the law here is on marijuana though. We were also wary of a scam though, where the dealer puts it in your hand and then threatens to call the police unless you pay up big.
Anyway, I thought Baixa was a very good looking area, very stately looking, and the tram lines really give it a 1930s look about it, which I liked.
We headed back to the hostel after that, ready to continue our sightseeing the next day.

The next day we headed to the castle on top of the hill, the Castelo Sao Jorge.
On the way up, a group of three men and two boys were suddenly walking very close behind us.
Castelo Sao JorgeCastelo Sao JorgeCastelo Sao Jorge

Ancient castle that watches over Lisbon.
I got a bit wary of them so kept my hands close to my pockets. One of the men then asked me for the time. Not knowing how to say the time in Portuguese, I showed him my imitation Tag Heuer watch.
"12.40", I told him in English.
"Thank you", he replied.
The group then walked back the way they came.
Davies was then looking through his bag, making sure he wasn't robbed. Unfortunately, his front pocket was open. Fortunately, all they managed to take was our map.
So our first encounter with pickpockets - luckily nothing valuable was taken, but it was a bit of a bitch being without a map for awhile.
The area around our hostel is a bit dodgy - there is a soup kitchen just down the road - so we always had to be on our toes while walking through it.
Lisbon is full of dog shit too - more than Paris - must be all those stray dogs, but it was unbelievable, you really had to watch your every step, and walking up to the castle was like a slalom.
The Castelo Sao Jorge is a real castle complete with rooks and towers,
View From The Largo das Portas do SolView From The Largo das Portas do SolView From The Largo das Portas do Sol

Picture Perfect from Lisbon.
and dates back to the Visigothic times more than 2000 years ago. Davies thought it was pretty cool, but I was a little underwhelmed. It had some good views over Lisbon however, and I took the opportunity to get some more snaps.
After visiting the castle, we went down to the terrace at Largo das Portas do Sol, which Lonely Planet said would provide us with THE snapshot of the city - and it wasn't wrong either, with a stunning vista. I did see an interesting sign there though saying; "Tourists: Please respect the Portuguese silence, or go to Spain!"
I thought this was quite funny as it's true - the Portuguese are a lot more calmer and laid-back than their Spanish counterparts, although when you see an animated Portuguese conversation, sometimes you're not quite sure ;-) And I love the use of body language and gestures in Spain, Portugal and Italy - it makes it so much easier to get your message across.

After the terrace, we went for a stroll through the steep, winding alleys of the Alfama district. Lonely Planet describes the area as a "medieval film set". I wouldn't quite go that far, but I
Mosteiro de JeronimosMosteiro de JeronimosMosteiro de Jeronimos

Magnificent looking palace in Belem, Lisbon.
guess Lonely Planet doesn't get right every time ;-)
We then took a tram out to Belem, home of the magnificent Mosteiro de Jeronimos, and apparently, the best "pasteis de nata" (custard tarts) in Portugal.
When we got there, the queue at the bakery with "the best pasteis de nata in Portugal" was huge. Just for a custard tart! Several in the queue had Lonely Planets. The thing is a like The Bible. Does great things for business though!
We went to the less crowded adjoining pasteleria for our pasteis de nata (with cinnamon and icing sugar) and it was delicious! Very much a Portuguese specialty, they are pretty much like the egg tarts you get at Chinese dim sums, except the pastry isn't flaky. Tastes much nicer though, I must say - we couldn't understand why people would queue for so long for something that couldn't have tasted much better than the ones we had. The Lonely Planet effect...
After taking some snaps of the Mosteiro, we walked over to the Torre de Belem, a huge sculpture that you can walk up, symbolising the voyages that made Portugal powerful. It is quite a sight.
Today happened to be Davies
Torre de Belem, LisbonTorre de Belem, LisbonTorre de Belem, Lisbon

Symbolises the voyages that made Portugal powerful, apparently.
birthday, so it was his choice for a birthday dinner and drinks.
He had a bit of trouble choosing a spot though, as like Auckland, the nightlife in Lisbon is spread out over several different areas, and choosing one of these areas was going to be hit and miss, so we settled on the Bairro Alto.
And we picked correctly, as there were heaps of bars and restaurants there, and lot's of people were out.
Davies chose a nice Indian place and I had the tandoori chicken which was well nice. We also made sure we ordered a glass of Porto port each, since we missed out on it in Porto. The alcohol content in port averages around 19%, so let's just say that it went down very slowly.
We then hit the bars.
I don't know if it was because it was a Wednesday night or whether were a bit tired, but it wasn't a great night. People were out and some bars were packed, but there were a lot of guys out and I'll put it on record that I don't think much of Portuguese girls unfortunately. Maybe the fact that we couldn't speak a word of Portuguese
Quinta da RegaleiraQuinta da RegaleiraQuinta da Regaleira

Kick ass palace in Sintra.
had something to do with it, but the welcoming energy that was present on the streets in La Coruña was lacking here, despite the number of people out. So we decided to cut our losses and head home.

The next day we decided to do a day trip out of Lisbon to Sintra, which is about 40 minutes out of Lisbon by train. Sintra is packed with old palaces and is where the Portuguese royal family and friends would spend their summers.
Sintra is another cute small town with steep streets and winding alleys and is quite the tourist attraction as several busloads of tourists were dropped off at the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, which dominates the townscape with it's huge twin chimneys. Neither of us could really see what the big deal was however, as aesthetically it was very bland.
The Quinta da Regaleira was anything but bland - this was one kick-ass palace.
The palace itself is actually very young, as it was only completed in 1910, but the intricacy present in it's neo-Manuelino and Renaissance exterior was breathtaking. Inside, the palace's many rooms and hilltop views would make it a mint place to live - the
The Initiation WellThe Initiation WellThe Initiation Well

Very deep well in the gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira.
place also had several hidden staircases and towers which made exploring the place fun.
However, it nowhere near as fun as exploring the palace's vast gardens.
Every single detail of the palace seemed to have a spiritual or artistic meaning behind it which explains some of the cheesy names of some of the features, such as "The Initiation Well" and the "Terrace Of Celestial Worlds". It seems the palace's owner wanted the place to have a theme of being a link between Earth and the underworld.
Set against the hill, the gardens have heaps of grottos, wells, caves and tunnels, as well as towers, churches and other decorative features. Most of these features are connected by a series of underground tunnels, some of them in absolute darkness with water dripping on your head. The only way of navigating most of them is to keep taking photos with your cameras to set off the flash as light. It was a bit of a claustrophobic's nightmare but it was really fun, and many of the kids who were in the compound loved it. Well worth the 5€ admission fee. The place would be absoultely kick-ass to play paintball in ;-)
The other
Secret Revolving DoorSecret Revolving DoorSecret Revolving Door

Davies looking shifty behind this secret revolving door somewhere underneath the gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira.
sights of Sintra were a bit far away and hard to get to, so with the sun setting it was time to head back to Lisbon.

The last thing we were to do in Lisbon, was to find a restaurant for a final Portuguese style meal. On our way back to the Bairro Alto, we were ushered in to a restaurant by an old man acting as a hawker. Trying to sell the place with limited English was a good effort, and we were hungry and sick of walking, so we decided to take up his offer and were seated next to four Australian girls. There was a guitar player strumming some Spanish tunes (e.g. La Bamba) right next to a family trying to enjoy their meal. Although they were annoyed at first, he won them over eventually as they and most of the local crowd in the restaurant joined in the singing. He certainly created an atmosphere.
In terms of the food, it was OK - I tried the local "bacalhau" which is basically grilled dried cod. It wasn't the tastiest thing I've eaten, but it went down well nonetheless.

Overall, I must say that Portugal was
LabyrinthLabyrinthLabyrinth

Entrance to a series of pitch black tunnels in the underworld. This was like being Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth. There is no scary-looking David Bowie down here though.
a little underwhelming.
I felt the place lacked energy, there wasn't a great deal to see (apart from the Quinta da Regaleira) and there just wasn't much to the place.
The fact we have been staying in hotels rather than hostels meant that we haven't really met anyone either. The temperature at times was a little cool as well.
However, my time in Portugal is not yet finished, as tomorrow we head to the Algarve for some fun in the sun ;-)

I hope everyone is well, feedback is always appreciated ;-)

Adeus,
Derek



Additional photos below
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Spider Man?Spider Man?
Spider Man?

We saw Toby Maguire down by the Praça do Comercial - he sure has put on some pounds ;-)
Trippy...Trippy...
Trippy...

Can you work out what this is inside the Castelo Sao Jorge?


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