Saturday, April 13, 2019

Lisbon, an Extra Day

As we headed to bed last night, jet lagged and too tired to stay awake any longer, this beautiful city was just coming alive.  As the sun set and the cool evening was punctuated by the lights of the city, the sounds of Fado music poured in through our windows.  Although we spent the night drifting in and out of sleep, unused to the sounds inside the hostel and those in the street below, we nonetheless enjoyed a refreshing sleep.

This morning, after slowly making our way downstairs for a communal breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice and yogurt, we headed out for a second day of exploring Lisbon.   

We made a long list of places we wanted to visit last night when we studied the guidebook, so when we headed out, we were full of enthusiasm and determination.  However, we were almost immediately waylaid by the delicious smells coming from the bakery down the street.  We stopped for our first wonderful, incredible, highly addictive cafe com leche and a Portuguese specialty, a pair of delicious pastel de nata (tarts consisting of warm custard inside delicate pastry shells).  Highly encouraged by our second breakfast, we set off once again.

We were indirectly headed in the direction of the Castelo S. Jorge as we made our way up the steep, narrow, cobblestone streets with their beautiful but hard, white, tile sidewalks. The narrow streets were bordered by walls covered in pale pastel stucco or brightly coloured tiles, accented by cheerful doors painted bright blue, yellow, green, or red.  Many of the steepest streets, where the sidewalk became a set of shallow stairs with a railing, were edged with buildings that were covered in busy, many-coloured graffiti.  Combined with the red tiled roofs and the white lace curtains in the windows, the effect was a cheerful, eclectic, slightly haphazard city that begged to be explored.
On our wanderings we passed one of Lisbon's iconic yellow trams, parked on a very steep hill, just outside of a station.  In any other city these 1930's trams would likely be in a museum, but here they are still in use, as the steep slopes and tight turns of their routes cannot be navigated by modern replacements.  Although a ride along tramway route 28 is a popular tourist activity, and apparently provides a fantastic tour of the city, we chose to continue our own explorations on foot.
Soon we found ourselves wandering off the main tourist drag, enjoying the stunning tile work that covered the walls of entire buildings in some places, and admiring the simple architecture of the city.  We found ourselves in a small municipal park that boasted a large statue, a patch of grass with a small pool of water, and many tall shade trees.  Several small cafes were located around the edges of the park too, but they were all tightly closed this morning.  We spent quite a bit of time photographing the colourful, exotic, and slightly comical looking Muscovy Ducks and Red Junglefowl that were wandering around in the shady green oasis.

The streets around the Castelo S. Jorge became tighter, steeper, and more crowded, and we soon found ourselves surrounded once again by souvenir shops and immaculately painted homes with picturesque flowerpots in the windows and colourful laundry hanging on lines across the road.  We joined the throng of people climbing the steep hill leading up to the castle, and eventually the line waiting to get inside. 

The Castelo sits on a tall hill that overlooks the port city of Lisbon.  Due to its strategic location, the hill has been occupied since the 8th century BC, and the first fortification was erected there in the 1st century BC. 
Throughout history, the site has been occupied by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors.  In 1147 fell under Portuguese occupation during the Siege of Lisbon, and during the 12th century it served as a royal palace, military barracks, and home to national treasures.  Today it is a museum, national monument, and tourist attraction.

After paying admission, we entered the walled citadel through a huge, wooden, 19th century gate topped by the Portuguese coat of arms.  We found ourselves in a large, roughly rectangular, terraced and walled space, planted with huge, old trees and scattered with old fountains and he remains of old stone walls and archways.  The shaded plaza was scattered with cannons, and prominently featured a statue of Afonso Henriques, the monarch who claimed the castle from the Moors in 1147.   


The remains of the royal palace are located in one corner, and now offer a multimedia show explaining the history of Lisbon, as well as an outdoor cafe.  At the other end of the walled fortress are the remains of the medieval castle, with its high walled courtyard and ten tall towers. Visitors can climb a series of staircases and walk along the tops of the walls connecting the towers.  The panoramic view from atop the walls was fantastic, but the tight walkways were very crowded.

We spent several hours wandering around the Castelo, exploring the walls and towers, enjoying the views out over the city, and absorbing the rich character, atmosphere, and history of the place.

Eventually we ended up at the outdoor cafe, sitting under the shade of the trees and enjoying a cold drink and pastry, while watching half a dozen Indian Peafowl displaying for the females in the nearby trees.  Although these birds are not native to Portugal, we couldn't help but admire their iridescent plumage and great shivering dances, and marvelling that such impressive but impractical plumage could evolve.

We were very excited to see and photograph a few other bird species while at the Castelo as well, including a European Greenfinch and a Short-toed Creeper that was busily feeding insects to its young in a nest box fixed to the side of a young pine. 

There is something very intriguing about seeing a bird species that clearly fills the same niche as a similar one on another continent.  

As we made our way back down the steep winding streets of Lisbon we came across the Igreja de Santiago, which marks the official beginning to Camino Portuguese. Apparently a church was originally built on this site in 1100, and then rebuilt following the 1755 earthquake.


Although the small white building with its dark green front door and red tile roof was firmly closed when we arrived, we were delighted to find the very first yellow arrow of the Camino painted on its gate!  We followed these arrows back to the iconic Se Cathedral, a distance of about half a kilometer, and there obtained the first stamp on our pilgrim passports.

After leaving the cathedral we spent some time exploring the streets, cafes, and shops of the Baixa district, which is the main downtown core of Lisbon, and houses many of its more famous tourist attractions.   

We particularly enjoyed window shopping in the bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, and cheese shops.  We also passed a corner store dedicated to sardines, which was filled with wooden shelves stocked floor to ceiling with colourful tins of different flavoured sardines.  It brought to mind Olivander's wand shop, or at least another shop from the magical Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series.


In the afternoon we decided to take the Santa Justa lift to experience what it would have been like to take a Victorian elevator.  We enjoyed the new perspective we got from the top, being able to look down on the intricate waved patterns in the tile plazas, the tiny cars and throngs of people below, and in the distance the expanse of the Commercial Plaza and the Tagus River beyond.


At the top of the tower we found ourselves in another shopping district with a very intriguing looking museum that was unfortunately closed.  We slowly made our way back down to river, stopping at a cafe for some large and delicious smelling baguettes topped with soft cheese, tomato, and fresh basil.  We enjoyed our modest feast on the shore while watching the sun set. 

As the golden light began to fade, and the lights of the city began to blink on, we made our way back to the Se Cathedral for a guitar concert we had spotted tickets for earlier.


When we returned to the cathedral we found a small section of wooden chairs and benches set up in a side chamber off the cloister.  We took our places in the small audience, and proceeded to enjoy an hour filled with beautiful classic Spanish and Portuguese guitar music.  The acoustics in the stone cathedral were fantastic, and the music seemed to bring the old building to life.  It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Afterwards we made our way back up the hill to the hostel, enjoying the sounds of laughter, singing, and Fado music and the smells of Portuguese cooking floating out of upstairs windows and tiny street-side cafes.  As we made our way up the streets, through the warm spring evening, we felt lucky to be in such a beautiful city.  Although our decision to explore on foot meant we hadn't been able to visit all of the places we'd liked to have seen, including the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery, we've enjoyed a wonderful introduction to Lisbon, and feel ready to head out of the bustling crowds and discover other facets of Portugal.

Accommodations: Liv'in Lisbon Hostel

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