The last stop of our two week Spain & Portugal trip was in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese).
Transportation: We drove from our resort in the Algarve in our rental car. We stopped along the way in the town of Évora then continued on to Lisbon, so total driving time was around 3.5 hours. It was great to get to see the inland countryside, which was full of wide open plains of olive groves, vineyards and cork trees and yellowed, grassy hills.
Residencial Florescente on the “eating lane” near the Rossio. It was not fancy and our room was the stereotypical European shoe box hotel room but its location was very central and convenient.
Our first night we ate at a seafood spot recommended by the Rick Steve’s travel guide, Restaurante Leão d’Ouro and it did not disappoint. Maybe this is common in many restaurants and I have just not experienced it before, but a cool thing about restaurants in Portugal is that they will list the seafood price per weight on the menu (i.e. shrimp are EUR 79 per kg and you order by the gram). They will then help you determine how much you want and even show you the fish or shrimp before they cook it! They did this in our resort back in the Algarve and I found it really helpful to see what we’re ordering to visualize portion size and because sometimes the translation of the name of the fish to English wasn’t possible and seeing it helped us know if we wanted it.
Wednesday afternoon we did a Portuguese wine, cheese and sausage tasting at the Lisbon Winery. The tasting experience was not as great as the online reviews indicated they would be, but we were able to learn a little about the wine regions and which reds we liked, which had been our goal. It was also a nice break during the heat of the day to sit inside and sip on wine.
Thursday night dinner we went to a small Fado restaurant, Canto do Camoes, in the Bairro Alto, which is an old hilly part of Lisbon and a big hub of bars and restaurants. Fado is a traditional form of singing and is typically very mournful and sad sounding. They are accompanied by guitar. It was nice to have them sing during dinner and to listen to the old Portuguese music form. Unfortunately, it sounds like it is somewhat of a slowly dying form of entertainment because there were not many people there for the dinner.
After the Fado dinner we went out to a couple of bars in the Bairro Alto for drinks. We went to The Old Pharmacy, which was a cool wine bar, and then the Artis Bar across the street where we listened to jazz.
As I mentioned, on our drive north on Tuesday August 2 we made a side trip to the city of Évora. We did a short self-guided walking tour of the city, which was small but had some interesting history to learn about as it used to be a center of trade and religion for the region. It was also incredibly hot so this was about all we could handle 🙂
Site seeing in Lisbon: We followed some walking tours from the Rick Steve’s book to get to see the various neighborhoods and learn a little history at the same time.
Something to keep in mind as you read, is to note that the 1755 “Great Earthquake” had a HUGE impact on the city of Lisbon. It toppled their churches and buildings and sparked fires that ruined the city. The majority of their historical sites were destroyed. Subsequent to the devastation, with limited funds and the need to rebuild quickly and earthquake resistant, their prime minister and king at the time made a hard decision. They did not allow the city to rebuild their cathedrals to their previous size or glory. They kept the churches modest (and therefore lower cost). Also, the buildings were all re-built in a uniform manner. You will see a lot of this reflected in the photos. It is really sad that they lost so much, and it is very apparent today when you walk around the city.
We started by walking up to the top of the hill where the Castelo de São Jorge sits, which is an 11th-century, hilltop Moorish castle & royal residence with palace ruins overseeing the city. This is one of the few structures that partly survived the earthquake.
If you look at the above photo, you’ll notice a couple things that make people compare the city to San Francisco. First of all it is a bit hilly. The hills even have some cable cars, though they were not nearly as nice as those in SF (ok there’s my SF pride coming through!). Also, that bridge off in the distance looks verrrry similar to the Golden Gate, doesn’t it? Well, it was built by the same company that built the San Francisco Golden Gate!. It was originally named the Salazar Bridge after the Portuguese dictator Salazar, but was subsequently changed to the 25th of April Bridge after the revolution of April 25, 1974.
Below is the Praça do Comércio, which is a big square in the city ringed in government buildings and the Arco da Rua Augusta triumphal arch. Here you can also see the uniform style of buildings attributable to the post earthquake reconstruction. It is very similar to the colonial style buildings seen in the Caribbean, parts of the US east coast, and other lands claimed by European explorers during the Age of Discovery.
On Thursday we spent the day in the Lisbon district of Belém, which is about a 15 minute taxi ride from the old town. After the big earthquake, most of the wealthy and royalty moved out of the city to this district, and even today most of the more affluent and young people do not even live in the old city we were touring but in the suburbs and the outskirts of town called the “New City.” Given the higher population after the earthquake, there is a high concentration of many historical sites.
So, that’s it! Our first two weeks of our summer trip to Spain and Portugal are sadly done. We loved the cities, the flavorful food, the red wines and getting to learn about the rich history and culture of the Spanish and Portuguese people. We had a short one night stay back in Switzerland at our apartment (less than 24 hours!) to rush to get our laundry done at the laundromat , re-pack and have an awesome home-cooked meal made by our friends Sarah and Kevin who are staying in our apartment for a bit while we’re out of town. Now, we’re meeting up with our families and cannot wait to see what Amsterdam and Norway have in store for us!!