Sunday, 18 January 2015

Lisbon: Sun, sky and poetry

Lisbon is a city famous for its blue skies, and indeed I found only blue skies when I was there in the middle of the winter. Still warm and welcoming in this season, I found Lisbon to be a manageable city: not too big, and not too chaotic, but charming in that Southern European way that I love so much.
It's a city of stone staircases (there are probably more here than I've seen in any other city!), with elevators - cable cars, some of them vertical - that can take you "up a level". For this reason, Lisbon can be a bit disorienting. It's full of viewpoints (miradouros in Portuguese), and built on top of seven hills, like Rome, with the river Tagus that could almost be mistaken for the sea.
View from the Castle of San Jorge
The castle of San Jorge is worth visiting mostly for the views, so I think the entrance fee should be abolished, and the castle grounds converted into a public park. Lisbon is a peculiar city in terms of sightseeing: neither the castle nor the Cathedral are anything special. The charm of Lisbon lies rather in walking around in search of  picturesque corners, admiring the views of the red roofs and the whitewashed houses, enjoying its paved squares, and of course taking many pictures of the photogenic yellow trams.

View of Lisbon from San Jorge Castle

You  hear the characteristic horn of the tram very often, while walking around Lisbon. When it will appear from behind a corner, it will always brings a smile to your face and it will become a familiar view. Of course the trams are not only yellow, but all colours, and some are of  the newer kind. Number 28 is the most famous among the old ones, because of its route: it allows you to see much of the old town from your window seat. I took it one morning, observing the mix of people - tourists, but also old Portuguese men and women  who just bought their groceries - and staring out of the window, enjoying the good weather and the views.  

The famous yellow tram

One of the most characteristic neighbourhoods  of Lisbon is the Alfama, in the old town. This is where the fado was born. It's a popular neighbourhood somehow reminiscent of Naples, with narrow streets, stone staircases and laundry out to dry. Every step hides a surprise in this part of Lisbon: here and there you will find a nice square, and even some ruins from the Islamic period with a spooky tree and  random - but amazing - street art.

A spooky tree grows in Alfama

The Alfama, whose names clearly comes from the Arabic, constituted the whole of the city during the period of the Moorish domination. Getting lost in this area of the city is a real pleasure, but not for your legs, who will have to tackle a lot of stone steps! A pastel de nata in a typical pastry shop might help you here: there are endless places in Lisbon where you can have something sweet, because apparently Lisboetas have a sweet tooth.

One of the many staircases of the Alfama

Streets of Alfama
A corner of Alfama

Street art in the streets of Lisbon

There are some names and events that I heard mentioned many times while I was in Lisbon, either in my guidebook or by locals: Henry the Navigator, the age of discoveries, and of course the terrible earthquake of 1755. The most fascinating monument connected with that tragic event that almost destroyed Lisbon is the Igreja do Carmo, a church which is now in ruins, with no roof. It has been converted into an archaeological museum, and I can assure you that it's very atmospheric to walk between its walls, because it's not everyday that you see ruins of a 18th century church. It's almost as if you time-travelled to a catastrophic future, when ruins don't only date back to the Greek or Roman times, but also to the more recent past.  

Igreja do Carmo

The archeological museum in the Igreja do Carmo

Lisbon is also the hometown of some of my favourite writers. I take great pride in this picture taken with the statue of Fernando Pessoa, one of my favourite poets. The statue is located  in the central neighbourhood of Chiado, in front of "A Brasileira", a café that he used to visit rather often. I really enjoy taking "literary side-trips", since I like reading. Poets are some of my favourites authors to track down, maybe because places are often important in their work. I've visited Keats' house in Rome, as well as  Oscar Wilde's grave in Paris, but I also giggled when I ran into a sign inside a bar in Madrid that read "Hemingway has not been here".  

With Fernando Pessoa

The famous Elevador da Santa Justa was being restored when I was there, so you couldn't see anything from the outside. You can either pay for a ride and for the terrace, or enter from behind the Igreja do Carmo and only pay for the terrace. I would advise you to skip the actual ride, as you don't see anything special, enter from behind the church and go straight to the rooftop terrace. Be warned: this is only one of the many viewpoints in Lisbon, and you have to pay to enjoy it. The Miradouro das Portas do Sol is equally beautiful, in my opinion, and completely free of charge. 

View from the top of the Elevador da Santa Justa

Oh, and if you're one of those people who chases sunsets wherever they're travelling, Lisbon is the place for you. From all along the river Tagus you can enjoy amazing sunsets over the red suspended bridge, with a view of the statue of the Christ redeemer on the other site of the river. As a matter of fact, if the suspended bridge is reminiscent of San Francisco, the statue of the Christ is similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro, except there is no Pão de Açúcar and no bay, but a wide river delta and some cool open-air bars where you can sip a drink while watching the sunset.

Sunset in Lisbon

What do you think about Lisbon? Is it a city that you would want to visit?

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this post so much! I will be traveling around Spain for a little over a month soon and was thinking of visiting Porto or Lisbon... or both! The flights are cheap and I've always wanted to go. Now I'm sold. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy travels :)


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