We arrived in Lisbon in the afternoon on Friday, February 1st, 2019. Always a long day travelling from Canada to Europe; but must say that everyone went well. We will be in Lisbon for the month of February, with a side trip to Bilbao, Spain for three days in the middle of the month. At the end of the month, we fly to the Portuguese island of Madeira for 4 nights and then back to Amsterdam for a couple of nights before our return home.
Lisbon is situated on the Atlantic coast in the southwest part of Portugal and lies on steep hills on the north bank of the Tagus river and greater Lisbon has a population of 3.3 million.
As always, I like to know the history of where we are visiting. First of all, a little about the Lisbon airport, which was built in 1942. As a neutral airport it was open to both German and British airlines, and was a hub for smuggling people into, out of, and across Europe. Because of this, it was heavily monitored by both Axis and Allied spies. Although Portugal was neutral, the airport was used by allied flights en route to Gibraltar, North Africa and Cairo. I love reading WW1 and WW11 fiction/non-fiction so I found this little tidbit very interesting. The movie Casablanca also comes to mind.
Lisbon is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Mythology tells us that Ulysses founded Lisbon on his journey home from Troy. The Phoenicians established a trading post many centuries ago. It has been ruled by the Romans, the Visigoths (mentioned in my blog of Andalusia last year), then of course the Moors. The Moorish influence is evident here with the Castelo de Sao Jorge and the narrow winding streets and white washed buildings of the Alfama district.
The first King of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, ousted the Moors in 1147. In 1256 Lisbon became the capital of Portugal. During this time the University of Lisbon was founded and the city flourished due to its trade with the rest of Europe. Then, as with the remainder of Europe, the plague destabilized the economy. Eventually prosperity returned and greatly improved, mainly due to Vasco de Gama’s successful navigation to India in 1497 setting up the spice trade. Hopefully the readers will remember Vasco de Gama from our history lessons in school!
The inquisition took place in Lisbon in the 16th century and its main purpose was to root out non believers, especially those that had converted. We know from our travels last June, that Evora, Portugal was also a site of the inquisition.
For a short period the Spanish controlled the area, but were eventually ousted. Then with the discovery of Brazilian gold a new wave of prosperity was enjoyed by Lisbon. An earthquake hit Lisbon in 1755 and along with fires and a tsunami, the city and surrounding areas were mostly destroyed.
The King was assassinated in 1908 and subsequently a lengthy dictatorship ensued with Antonio Salazar at the helm from 1926 to 1968. On April 25th, 1974 a military coup took place ending the totalitarian regime and peaceful civil resistance took place. Almost no shots were fired. The resistance was called the Carnation Revolution as the demonstrators gave carnations out and placed them in the muzzles of the army rifles.
In 1986 Portugal joined the European Community and foreign companies began to set up in Lisbon. Today the economy in Lisbon is driven by manufacturing and construction which together accounts for 30.2% of Portugal’s GDP in 2004. The largest industries are clothing, textiles, footwear, food processing, wood pulp, paper, cork, metal working, oil refining, chemicals, fish canning, wine, telecommunications, and tourism. Agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing employs about 12.5% of the work force. Definitely knew about the cork from our trip to Evora, Portugal last year. That area grows the most cork. I read somewhere that Portugal produces one half of the world’s cork. Most of its trade is done within the European Union. I have to wonder how much trade is done with England and how Brexit will affect Portugal.
The unemployment rate in Portugal was 6.7% as of November 2018, but 20% in the youth sector. Seems to be that youth unemployment is a problem around the world. In 2013 the overall unemployment rate reached a high of 17.50%.
The forestry and agriculture sectors are somewhat at risk, as Portugal has seen wild fires in the summer season (similar to California) and I would dare say probably due to climate change. I used to say global warming, but my 10 year old granddaughter told me that I should use the term climate change…thank you Caitriona.
In 2011, Portugal received a bailout from the EU/IMF due to its high debt load. We have been told that Portugal has repaid its debt to the IMF and I did see an article (not fake news I hope) that confirmed this.
That is probably enough history and economic data! Hopefully I haven’t put you to sleep yet.
Arrived at our rental apartment around 3:30 pm on Friday. It is located in Graca neighbourhood, bordering on the Alfama district. Not very touristy in this area, which is what we like. We are a 2 minute walk to the metro station and within walking distance of the main downtown areas of Baixa and Avenida. After unpacking we head off to stock up on groceries and get to know our way around the neighbourhood. Praca (square) de Rossio and Praca de Figueira both very near by.
We just want an easy dinner as we are very tired and opt to share a hamburger (take away) and a salad. Oh, of course, and some wine. A young man at the wine section in the grocery store took the time to recommend some good Portuguese wines. OK, another rant; why do we need to go to another store to buy our wine and not just get it in a grocery store….so civilized here. We stopped at a local hamburger shop (upscale, if there is such a thing) and while we are waiting, the owner and Robin start talking about football (soccer for those back home) and Robin tells him that we have tickets to a “Benfica” game. The owner tells us he is a rabid “Sporting Lisbon” fan. He takes out his phone and proceeds to show us pictures of his attendance at all the games, the green outfits he wears (colours of his team), a picture of him with various players of the team and tells us that he is very sorry that we won’t be able to see his team play. I love these interactions….so fun!
On our first full day, our objective is to get a metro card and a new Sim card for our phone (way cheaper that to pay roaming charges). Our metro station does not have a kiosk and only has machines. One can add to an existing metro card or buy a one way ticket. We see a small shop and ask if they have metro cards. The guy tells us to wait a minute, then another guy appears and tells us he has metro cards. Always a little leery when something like this happens, but sometimes you have to have faith in people. I ask this young man who he works for. He tells me he sub contracts to the transit system and he makes a commission on every card that he sells. The card itself only costs 1.50 Euro and you top it up at one of the machines. We finally agree and he takes us to one of the machines, he tops the cards up with 10 Euro each and we give him the required funds. He even gives us a small metro guide. This transaction works and we are off on the metro. The card is good for the metro, tram, bus, train, ferry and the elevadors in and around Lisbon.
Our next stop was Vodafone, to get a new SIM card to replace our Canadian SIM. He tells me my phone is locked and the sim card won’t work. Well that is funny as I swapped out for a Spanish sim last June. Luck is with us today and the sim card works in Robin’s phone. Really all we need is just one of our phones to make calls and get data as we are out and about. It cost us 20 Euro for the month with more than enough data for the month. Can’t understand why our telecommunication costs are so high in Canada…..well, yes I do. Not enough competition and a smaller population base.
Just as an aside, I find it interesting that in Europe, “What’sApp” app. is widely used vs North America. Not sure if you all know what this app is for, but it is great. When we landed at the airport I had used the airport internet and used the What’s app to contact our driver. It is a messenger application which crosses platforms. So basically can text from an apple to an android without cost as long as you have an internet connection; don’t need to use up data on your phone. It has other functions, but this is its main use.
The Baixa neighbourhood (two metro stops away) is full of restaurants and shops such as H & M, Mango and the like. We are told by our landlord to avoid these restaurants, as they cater to tourists and suggests much better restaurants to frequent. We do however stop at a small pastelaria/coffee shop on Rua Aurea and enjoy our first “pasteis de nata” (custard tart) which is renown in this area of Portugal. Very good.
Well, I spot a Muji store (a Japanese home goods and clothing store) which we have seen in major cities around the world. I have told the story before of Robin really liking their toothbrushes, so yes, he did buy more. When I want to sound “too big for my britches”, I say…..”my husband buys his toothbrushes in Paris, Barcelona and New York”. I can now add Lisbon to that list.
Walking around, many tourists waiting to take the famous ” Elevador de Santa Justa” so we decide to wait and come back during the week. Brings you up to a view point where one can see the City from above.
Continue our walk towards the river Tagus and reach the Praca de Comercio (Palace Square). Beautiful arcades with artists selling their wares as it is Saturday. I am now the owner of a new ring; just what I need, more jewellery! This was once the site of the royal palace for some 400 years. The original palace was destroyed in the earthquake and the new square and surrounding areas were designed by the Marques de Pombal incorporating a more modern grid system. The new palace was built along three sides of the square and are all arcaded buildings. They are painted the royal yellow. Shops on the main levels and government administrative offices in the remainder of the buildings. The square is used today for cultural events and festivals. There was a small demonstration going on while we are there, but couldn’t really see what it was all about. The square was also the sight of the 1974 peaceful Carnation uprising; which I referred to in my opening history comments. In the middle of the square is the equestrian statue of Jose 1 who was the King at the time of the earthquake.
There is a beautiful arch, Arco da Rua Augusta leading to the Praca de Comercio and on the other side the gateway to the Baixa area.
I love this picture of the Praca de Comercio. It had just rained as we came out of our wine tasting. Love the reflections!
Walking around the square, we spot a wine store. It turns out to be “The Wines of Portugal Tasting Room”. A very interesting concept. One can sign up for wine tastings or you can do self serve wine tasting. You purchase a card (with a chip) and you decant the wines you want to try and you can opt for three sizes of pours and you will be charged the appropriate amount depending on the size of your pour. Thought this was ingenious and must say, we tried some very good wines. They also had a section of ports that you could also taste. Their motto….”Taste and discover Wines of Portugal”, well that is not too hard to take on a Saturday afternoon.
As we finish our wine tasting, we are treated to a group of young musicians just outside the entrance. Very good music, not sure why they were wearing kilts! Well, my curiosity always gets the better of me. I looked this up and sure enough, kilts are traditional to the Trás-os-Montes area (Douro region) of Portugal. I found this on a website dedicated to kilts…..
On Sunday, February 3rd we decide to take an Uber to the Time Out Market, which is located in the Mercado de Ribeira, which was founded in 1890. It is right across the Cais do Sodre train station by the Tagus river. The existing food and fish market still exists and is open daily. The Time Out Market was opened in 2014 and has 24 restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops, a cooking school and a high-end music venue. Some of the restaurants/kiosk are run by Michelin chefs. A great concept. I read that they are opening more Time Out Market’s in various cities around the world this coming year including Montreal, London and Chicago.
We really weren’t hungry, but bought some meals for take-away for our dinners at the apartment later in the week. While waiting for our meals, we decide to enjoy a glass of wine. We sit next to a young English couple and had a delightful visit. They were in Lisbon for four days, they had never been away together since they had had children. I think this is so important for couples, they need time away on their own. The young mother said upon returning she might be a more patient mother and her kids might appreciate her more.
We walk along the river back towards Praca de Comercio. Lots of people out today along the paths enjoying the sunshine, eating and having drinks and riding scooters and rental bikes.
On Monday, we decide to venture to the Avenida neighbourhood. This runs along the Avenida da Liberdade, a very upscale area. Shops would include Prada, Louis Vuitton and many others that I would not even enter. Many embassies have their offices along the Avenida, including the Canadian embassy. I read in my guide book, that this area was also rebuilt after the earthquake, but it was a park restricted to Lisbon’s high society and was “surrounded by walls and gates ensuring the exclusion of the lower class”. The boulevard is built in the style of the Champs Elysees in Paris. The gates and walls were taken down in 1821 when the liberals came to power.
Enjoy a coffee in a little outdoor cafe along the large boulevard. I love the patterns of bricks on the sidewalks. We walk to the north end of the Avenida and reach the Praca Marques de Pombal on the large rotunda (traffic circle). Above this lies the Parque Eduardo V11. We both recall the surrounding area from when we were in Lisbon some 10 years ago. We continue our walk, then make our way to the Castelo Sao Jorge via Uber. The Uber driver can’t quite get us to the castle as traffic is limited to this area. He drops us off as closely as he can and he proceeds to show us where we can catch elevators that go down the hills. I had not read anywhere in my research about these elevators, one would not know they are there unless you were really looking. They are elevators located in residential/commercial buildings.
After a short two minute walk, we arrive at Castelo de Sao Jorge which was built in the mid 11th century during the Moorish period. The purpose of the castle was to house military troops and in case of a siege, take in the elite. The information tells me that it is built on the most inaccessible area of the city taking advantage of the natural slopes. Eleven towers still remain and we climbed up to the ramparts. The castle was modified and enlarged when Dom Afonso Henriques became the first king of Portugal and it became the Royal residence. I know from my research on the history of Lisbon, that the Royal residence was moved to the Praca de Comercio when buildings were erected.
Stop for lunch at a tiny little cafe called Claras em Castelo located just outside the castle gates. What a lovely surprise; great food. We shared a dish of fresh “Pescada em Caril & Leite Coco” or in english, “calamari stuffed with shrimp in coconut milk”…absolutely delicious. We had told the waiter/owner that we weren’t that hungry and we thought we would share. He says “no problem,if you want more, we just give you more”. After lunch he brings us our tea and cappuccino for me and says “Nespresso” but not the home kind, professional nespresso maker! Not sure why he felt he had to say that, but it was a very good cappuccino. Afterward I looked up this restaurant and all the reviews were excellent, might have to go back for dinner during our time here in Lisbon.
We head off and take the two separate elevators to get down to the Baixa area. Much easier than walking down all the steps from the castle or trying to take the overstuffed tram cars.
Our uber driver had told us that real estate in the inner city of Lisbon was very expensive and most people of Lisbon could not afford to buy. A lot of foreigners also buying in the inner city. This was confirmed by the representative of our apartment as well. The city of Lisbon has also put a cap on the number of AirBnB’s in the inner city.
We realized when we got home that Robin had forgotten his hat at the restaurant. We called the next morning and they did indeed have his hat. We head out Tuesday morning to pick up the hat and of course, now that we know about the elevators, we take advantage of these to make our way up to the castle.
We start heading back down to Baixa as we are off to Belem today. We spot a lovely shop and realize it is a sardine shop called Comur and was established in 1942. Lisbon is know for its sardines. We have seen t-shirts and all other sorts of tourist memorabilia with pictures of sardines. Well, this must be a very upscale sardine shop. They not only carry sardines, but all types of tinned smoked fish. On their website they mention that they are mainly known for their canned eels. The young sales lady explains all the types of tinned fish and tells us that they have the ultimate tinned sardines which have been deboned by hand. I think this is the way to go as sometimes I find the small bones in sardines a little annoying, although I know many eat them. I go to pick up this “gold” coloured tin and Robin points out the cost….20 Euro! I quickly put it down and go purchase three different types of tinned fish, not the gold! This shop was so amazing with the different coloured and artistic tins of fish and of course the beautiful chandelier just topped it off.
Back down the elevators and catch the metro to the Cais do Sodre train station, where we catch the train to Belem. The train runs along the Tagus river. There is a tram and bus that go to Belem, but for our first visit we opted for the train which is quicker and more direct. Might have to try the slower bus or tram option at a later date which would give us the opportunity to see different neighbourhoods.
Belem is at the mouth of the Tagus river and was where the caravels set sail for their voyages of discovery. We have read and been told that the Tagus river used to come much higher up in Lisbon as well as in Belem. In Belem it used to come right up to the Monastery, but today it is about 1/2 kilometre away. We enjoy a lunch of fresh fish looking onto the the Parque Alfonso de Albuquerque.
We head off to visit the “Mosteiro dos Jeronimos” which was commissioned by the King after the return of Vasco de Gama’s successful voyages around 1501. His tomb is located in the monastery. If you recall your history, Vasco de Gama successfully sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and opened the sea route to India. We visit both the church (Santa Maria) and walk through the cloisters. I thought the cloister here was so beautiful with its’ carved columns and arches. Small doors around the perimeter of the cloister were confessionals….no I did not go in!
As we are leaving the Monastery, Robin spots some “lime” scooters which is the same company that has started a bike share program in Calgary. He has the “app” on his phone, so we decide to try it. I mention that I might try it first as Robin’s balance isn’t the greatest. Well folks, they are definitely hard to balance when you first take off and I almost broke my neck! The ride didn’t last very long. Not sure how everyone manages these scooters on the cobblestones. You see young people all over Lisbon riding these and often time with two people on the scooters.
We walk by the Palacio de Belem, which is the official residence of the President of Portugal. Must say that it is not a very impressive building. The Royal family happened to be residing here during the earthquake and were kept safe.
On our way back to the train, I spot the “Antiga Confeitaria de Belem” and there is a line up going down the street. I mentioned to Robin that I had read about this pastry shop on an article posted on Pinterest. In 1837 they began making the original Pastéis de Belém, following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. We will definitely have to stop here and indulge the next time we visit.
We have seen a lot in our first few days in Lisbon and certainly enjoying our time here. Weather has been cool in the mornings but warms up to +16C in the afternoons.