25th January 2017
So in another one of our January galavants, which last time took us to Copenhagen and Stockholm, me and Izzy once again boarded a plane for a few days in another European capital – this time, Lisbon. Beginning with a decidedly relaxed morning of eating breakfast at Layne’s and heading on a train to Manchester Airport, we were soon aboard the Lisbon Metro, full of croissant and map in hand.
Emerging from the decidedly deep tunnels of the subterranean railway, we were quickly in our hostel room and ready for a good night’s sleep before the tour planned for the next morning at 10am – but as luck would have it the tour began right outside our hostel, and so the following morning we rolled out of bed to have breakfast and head to the meeting point as late as we could.
We were soon traversing the centre of the Portuguese capital, learning about invaders, explorers and the earthquake which changed the landscape of the city forever. Above you can see a portion of one of the few central buildings which survived the quake, an old church, but we were soon exploring some of the streets rebuilt after the disaster.
Soon we were ushered onto the plaza of what seemed like it was a restaurant, but was actually the entrance to an elevador, a raised platform with views overlooking the city. This metal structure, previously used to haul goods up the steep sloping ruas of the city, was a lovely spot to take a photo of the city’s topography.
A little further down the street we stopped for more information on the history of Lisbon, and were presented with an amazing view of the winding street and city beyond into which we were about to descend, from where we then got a view of the platform we’d just been up on – it was surprising how quickly we’d descended so far!
From here we moved through the gridded and relatively recent centre of the city, rebuilt on quake proof foundations by one single architect, and to the Praça do Comércio, a square on the waterfront which sits by the governmental buildings.
Here the story of how the Portuguese people rose up and overthrew their dictator without a single life being lost was told, a movement which centred around a march on the square, and a movement which was started by the public radio transmission of a song previously banned for years – a song which it turns out is beautiful and you should give it a listen.
This square was also where the tour ended, but we had plenty more in mind which we wanted to do, so from here we moved west to a food market and then hopped on a train to explore something we had read about before leaving…
From the market, and with a stomach full of delicious croquets and freshly fried crisps, we headed to a train station to head even further east to the big San Francisco-esque suspension bridge called the Ponte 25 de Abril. Carless, we weren’t interested in crossing the huge structure, but rather an abandoned factory complex just by it which has been converted into a lovely collection of artists studios, cafés, bookstores and all other things creative.
Once inside the LX Factory, as the complex is called, we began our explorations. We nipped in and out of various little shops, before winding our way into a book shop where we browsed for a while until we found a huge printing press, where we were approached by a man asking us if we spoke English…
Having ascertained our mother tongue, the old man took us on a whirlwind tour of a huge set of crazy moving machines that he has spent his life making, from a miniature model of the printing press to oversized insects made of umbrellas and bits of desk chairs. The guy’s passion and the intricacy of the models was impressive – I don’t know if anything like that will ever happen to me again!
After explaining how he liked to make useless things, and that the most useless fan-type machine he ever made he christened “love”, we moved on as the sun began to set, exploring the last few shops in LX Factory before we left. Amongst them we found proof that Adam and Steve were a thing, and were mooned by a delinquent piece of acrylic climbing the wall of the building, all before heading back to the train station.
Waiting for the train in the setting sun made for some great lighting for a cheeky selfie and a photo looking back to the centre of Lisbon, upon arrival to which we headed out to a tiny local restaurant. Here the menu was brought to our table on a huge chalkboard, and the plates were all as delicious as each other as they were delivered one by one to our table – however we were too busy munching to take any photos. Damnit.
The next day we were once again up bright and early, this time to head out solo to the west of the city in search of the oldest part of the city, Alfama, which survived the 1755 quake due to it’s position on a separate rock of land. After a wander down the front we soon found Alfama’s winding narrow streets and precariously steep steps, but the climbing and stumbling was worth it for the views and character of the old town.
As we climbed further up Alfama we began to be able to peek out over the area, with spectacular views from plateaus along the route. We soon levelled out and decided to find a spot to get a fresh lemonade and a bite to eat, and wound up having some fresh bruschetta and basil-infused lemonade with views over a huge church that we didn’t even realise existed until we turned a corner and it presented itself to us!
We then began to circle said big church to try and find the entrance, which we pretty much had to do a full circle for, but as we discovered that there was an entry fee and our budget was tight, we decided to give it a miss and head on up the hill to a spot where we’d been told we’d find the best views over the city.
Soon we were walking up yet another steep Lisbon street, even though I didn’t think there was chance we could rise any further. The exhaustion was worth it though, for at the top we were greeted with near 360° views over the city.
What goes up however must come down, and so soon we were hugging the railing for dear life as we stumbled down a sheer flight of stairs, but the slipping and sliding was worth it for yet another stunning view of the urban scene below.
The trend of stumbling across steep ruas which seem to slope down beautifully lined streets was common as we continued to traverse Lisboa, and after stopping for some famous pastel de nata (sweet custard tarts) and then a glass of wine and a sandwich, we found plenty more.
From here we had decided to try and grab one of the infamous Lisbon trams, but seeing as all the information was in Portuguese and we’d had a glass of wine, we thought it best just to wander our way back down to the hostel before heading back out for some food for the evening. This worked in our favour, however, as we found a gorgeous plaza with views over the other side of the city, just as the sun had set enough to cast a lovely light over the scene.
Whilst up here we stopped at a little kiosk to try the locally-recommended ginjinha, a Portuguese liquor made with alcohol, cherries and sugar – all served in a mini chocolate cup. It is as delicious as it sounds and I just had to pick myself a bottle of it up from duty free! Anyway, back on with the trip…
That evening we headed for another lovely meal down in the south of the city, just a few streets from the water, and once again tucked into a plate of perfectly seasoned fish. We then had to climb one of the steep streets I had christened “the hill of death” back up to the hostel for the night, after which we began the next day back on a train – this time east towards Belém.
As we arrived in Belém we couldn’t really see all that much except a car museum, but we soon found our way towards the centre. It turns out that Belém is the birthplace of the iconic custard tarts that we were snacking on all over the place, with the oldest operating bakery enjoying lines spilling out of the door – all for the small sweet treat. We decided to skip the queue and instead head further into the district, where beautiful buildings and gardens greeted us.
Traversing these, we were ambushed by some ducks (not really, but they were not perturbed by us at all), and then found our way to the huge monument to the Portuguese explorers, an impressive monolith hanging over the water’s edge. By this we were also treated to stunning views across the bay, the impressive bridge and a miniature version of the Christ The Redeemer statue that the Portuguese have built to watch over Lisbon.
From here we headed to settle in the sun, which by this point was quite warm, and so with custard tarts and coffees in hand we popped ourself down on a patch of grass under a tree and soaked up some of the warmth from the sun. I haven’t mentioned this thus far but Lisbon in January is cold – despite how lovely it may look!
Once we’d warmed up like a couple of cold-blooded lizards arching into the sun, we did a bit of Google exploration and discovered that a local museum had a free exhibition with a tonne of 20th century peices from some of the biggest names, and so we wandered back down the waterfront and headed inside the Museu Coleção Berardo.
Once inside we were in for a treat, as we found pieces from big names like Andy Warhol to personal favourites of mine like Dan Flavin, whose work I saw in London a few years ago. Here’s a couple of image highlights…
After this we headed to a funnily named café called Pão Pão Queijo Queijo, literally “Bread Bread Cheese Cheese”, where we wound up stuffed after a couple of huge sandwiches, and we headed back to the hostel on the train ready for a night visiting the bars of Barrio Alto, an evening district just north of our hostel.
On our last day we spent the morning checking out of our hostel, but had some hours to kill so we headed into the city, where we descended whilst munching custard tarts with fresh orange juice, and then when it came time to head back uphill, we finally resolved to give one of the trams a try. We opted for a type called an elevador, as we couldn’t get lost on it – these trams go forwards and backwards up and down the same hill all day.
This took us to the same plaza where we’d enjoyed evening views of the city just two days before, but instead of stopping for more ginjinha we opted for a coffee and a snack to keep us going – we were wearing tired of the city’s hills!
On the way to the hostel, however, we stumbled upon an absolute gem of a museum, the MUDE, or Museu Do Design E Da Moda – The Design & Fashion Museum. What we’d found though was everything I love rolled up into one exhibition – graphic design, lighting and typography – an exhibition on the signage of Lisbon – including a look at the neon signs of bygone years.
The collection was absolutely amazing, and we were shocked when we learned that the entry was free. We had such a wonderful time exploring this unexpected find, which is deserving of and will get its own blog post at some point. Sooner or later though, we’d started at the flickering neon as much as we could, and grabbed one last custard tart and coffee before heading back to check out of the hostel and bundle our weary bodies back onto the Metro. Cut to ten hours later and we’d be on a train from Manchester Airport to Leeds too tired to speak, but we both had an amazing time!
Looking back over our four days I feel we spent just the right amount of time to enjoy a bit of everything that Lisbon has to offer – the food, the nightlife, the exhibitions, and the countless hours spent wandering the streets looking for snacks and little shops. I’d definitely recommend anyone thinking of going do so as soon as possible, it really is an amazing city – just pass on this one if you’re not a fan of custard tarts or you’ve not got very resilient calf muscles…
PS: Keep an eye on my travel page, I’ll soon be adding Lisbon and it’s top threes!