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Lisbon and its ups and downs

Literally ups and downs…Actually, I think this was the only down in Lisbon, that it has lots of ups 😐

I’m not making much sense, am I? The thing is … I’m still wondering if there is a horizontal street in Lisbon … maybe I’ll find it next time… This time I only found slopes, at all kinds of angles :-S So if you want to explore Lisbon by foot this means loooads of going down on streets just to go up on the next one … So make sure to bring comfy shoes! But it’s not all bad, this is the reason why some interesting trams and stylish elevators exist to help you get from one part of the city to another. And those I really liked!

Having only two days and a bit to spend in Lisbon, my main focus was on the well known sites and monuments. Hopefully next time I’ll get to explore more!

The very first site I visited in Lisbon was the Sao Jorge Castle, a really interesting start. 🙂 Built in the place of more ancient fortifications (some ruins of them can be seen on the site), the castle was build by the moors starting with the 10th century. You get to walk all around it, go inside and also climb on the walls. From the walls and from the courtyard you get to enjoy the stunning view over the city since the castle is (of course) located on a hill. Also, the flute player singing medieval-like songs in the citadel added a nice touch to the whole visit 🙂 There was also a small museum with some artifacts found on the site. But beware of the scary peacock in the courtyard! There was one roaming around and randomly screaming.

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Next was a walk through the Alfama district, the oldest in Lisbon. Forming the whole city in the time of the moors, Alfama is a labyrinth of narrow streets going up and down, of churches, terraces and bars. I had a nice walk on the streets, drooled when passing by a woman who was barbecuing sardines in the street (they looked yummy and smelled even better), had a very good meal (if you like sea food, be sure to taste cataplana de peixe while in Portugal), checked out an odd looking guy wearing lots of hats one stacked on top of the other (!?!), admired the azulejos and also returned a few days later in the evening to listen to Fado. Cause this is also one of the best places in town where one can listen to Fado music … of course I would say that since it’s the only place where I listened to Fado 🙂 But really, there are looooads of places that have live Fado shows in the evening, ranging from on-the-street-terraces to fancy restaurants. I went to a fancier place on a really narrow street. The show was amazing! I didn’t understand much of the lyrics, but it had a nice sound and the singers were really involved and were having a great time even though they’ve probably been singing the songs for who knows how many times already… Also, if you enjoy people-watching, if you sit by the window you can see drivers struggling to pass on that narrow street, even backwards (with side-mirrors folded of course as otherwise the car would not fit)!!?

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Next I headed to the Plaça do Comércio where I got a surprise. The square was a huge exhibition of farm animals and plants. The was also a parade with weirdly dressed (I assume that was some sort of traditional costume for something?!) people singing, oxcarts and agricultural machinery. Certainly not what I expected! After asking around, I found out one of the biggest supermarket chains in Portugal was organizing a mega-picnic. There was also a concert in the evening, activities for kids and adults (build-your-own-straw-man, carting, pony riding) and lots of stalls with food and drinks. After checking it out for a bit, I headed to the next destination, but I returned in the evening for the concert and a walk by the Tejo river. At the end of the day, everyone went home with some of the plants from the exhibitions. Most with a sun-flower or two, but also people struggling to carry huge bags of onions. The animals were still there when I headed to the hotel, but were missing the next day. :-S

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Then I headed to the Jerónimos Monastery. The whole thing is huge! You can visit the church, the monastery and the part of the building that houses the Archaeological Museum. The building is stunning, an impressive blend of late-Gothic style and the Moorish influences that show up in most of the Portuguese monuments. The archaeological museum is rather small, what I liked in particular was the Egyptian collection. They even had a couple of crocodile mummies. I certainly didn’t expect to see any in Portugal.

Close to the monastery there’s the pastry shop where they sell the famous pasteis de belem! There’s always a bit of a queue in from of it, but it’s worth the wait! They are indeed tasty! Although, honestly, I liked another type of pasteis better: pasteis de nata from a pastry shop on Rua Augusta.

The next landmark I visited was the Belém Tower, which I think is the most well known monument in Lisbon. The four-storied tower was built in the 16th century from lioz limestone, a rare stone from the Lisbon area. Its architectural style is late Gothic, manueline. As you go up to the top you get to admire the view over Lisbon and the Tejo river. The stairs are really narrow and used for both going up and down the tower. It’s nice that they found a way to try and avoid people getting stuck in there, by using timed red/green lights. But there still are some people that do not notice those and just choose to ignore them 🙁

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And this was pretty much my first day in Portugal and Lisbon 🙂

On the next day of the trip, before heading to the beach, I went to climb with the Santa Justa elevator from Rua de Santa Justa in Baixa to the Largo do Carmo. Apart from being a convenient means of getting from the lower neighborhood to the higher one, you can also climb on a platform on top of it and get another awesome view of Lisbon. After this, I used the funicular called Ascensor da Bica to go towards the Cais do Sodré train station. This is the narrowest and smallest of Lisbon’s funiculars and also a bit hard to find. think these are now mostly used by tourists and not by locals, but they sure are interesting means of transport! You can use the elevator to get from one district of Lisbon to another. The funicular goes up and down on a narrow street, at a slow pace so you have plenty of time to look around.

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The next day spent in Lisbon was actually also the last in day of the trip 🙁

What I first got to see were some narrow winding and of course steep streets (why, oh why did the GPS pick the steepest streets?? .. I assume it was punishing me for missing a couple of the indicated turns) on the way to the Azulejos Museum. Since Portugal is full of them and I admired them for the whole trip, I thought why not go to the museum and find out more about how they ended up using tiles to decorate their homes. I was a bit disappointed as I didn’t find out as much info as I wanted, but I did get to see how different types of azulejos are made and also admire some more examples of them 🙂

On the way to the airport, the last stop was at the Lisbon Oceanarium, located in the Parque das Nações. The park was built especially as exhibition grounds for the Expo ’98. The Oceanarium is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe.

I visited both the temporary and main exhibitions. The temporary one was with four turtles that were rescued and were being housed there until they were ready to be released into the wild. The display was really well designed, you got to go all around the tank with the turtles and even over and underneath some parts of it. And the turtles did come swimming over/under you! Awesome idea! Dunno if the turtles could see us though. They didn’t stop to say hi 🙁

The main exhibition is set around a huge tank. Around it there are four tanks that house four different habitats with their native flora and fauna: the North Atlantic rocky coast, the Antarctic coastal line, the Temperate Pacific kelp forests, and the Tropical Indian coral reefs. These tanks are separated from the central tank only by large sheets of acrylic to provide the illusion of a single large tank. Throughout the first floor there are also some thematic aquariums with each of the habitats’ own characteristics. I saw loads of fish, mammals, birds and other marine organisms. You can walk all around the tanks and there are lots of places where you can sit and just be amazed. Each display had a board with info about the environment and animals in it. One of the most crowded locations (by humans) was the home of the cute little penguins. I noticed on their board that it mentioned their feeding time, so after visiting a few more displays I returned at that time. They were fun to watch. Some of the penguins queued around the guy who was feeding them and waited for their turn, but some were so lazy they had to be called by the guy or even had their fishes thrown at them 🙂 I also loved the sea otters and the camouflaged toads.

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I really loved how they designed the displays, the jungle one even had stuffy air 😐 And I saw some species I never saw before 🙂 All in all, the Oceanarium was a really fun and educative experience! I’d definitely say it’s a must see in Lisbon.

I also took a gondola ride in the Parque das Nações, but it wasn’t very impressive. But the park is a nice place to just to relax, have an ice-cream and enjoy the last couple of hours spent in Lisbon. Until next time!

Useful info:

  • the Lisbon City Card rocks! – you get free public transport, free entrance to most museums (also from Sintra and Tomar and other places close to Lisbon) and lots of other discounts. You can get it at tourist offices and some of the attractions. I got it straight from the tourist office at the airport.
  • some museums are free on Sundays
  • Sao Jorge Castle – 30% discount with the city card
  • Oceanarium – 16 euro including the temporary exhibition (there is a discount with the city card)
  • all other museum entrances were free with the card
  • elevator rides were also free with the card
  • the gondola ride in the Parque das Nações was 4 euros (one way)
  • search for great accommodation in Lisbon

trip date: July 2013

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