The iconic 28 old wooden tram that still plies its way up and down the hills of Lisbon. I probably used this very tram on my last trip to Lisbon when aged 13. A lot has changed but Lisbon remains as beautiful as ever. F. and I were invited to go for a few days holiday with David and Jennifer ostensibly for various ‘missed’ anniversaries and, setting out across the Tamar first-class on GWR (I booked well beforehand), there was already a sense of adventure…..After leaving a cold and rainy London we arrived in a coldish and overcast Lisbon where we used the first of many Uber taxis to get us from the airport to our hotel….incredibly and amazingly cheap – 6 Euros for quite a lengthy journey. When Jennifer talked to some of the Portuguese and Brazilian drivers later, it still seemed they made a reasonable living…..After dumping our cases we headed for the rooftop solarium where drinks by the pool were in order, and it was just warm enough for the British contingent to sit without a coat (not Jennifer of course…).We then took an Uber into the city centre to do a bit of exploring and have our first meal. Bit of a disaster for me as I chose the local speciality of Bacalao or salt cod and it stank to high heaven and tasted the same. This was our only instance of bad food during our stay thank goodness (recommended by The Times, but you can’t win them all……). Wandering through the centre we made our way to one of Lisbon’s many beautiful open spaces, this time a magnificent colonnaded square by the sea where we were able to enjoy a post-prandial coffee at one of the inviting cafes…on our way we marvelled at the stunning architecture of the buildings, the fantastic coloured, mosaic-like Portuguese pavements or calcada portuguesa, coming in many patterns…the jolly colours of the buildings themselves…just looking gladdens the heart…Refreshed for more wandering we found by chance the oldest operating bookshop in the world (Guinness Book of Records) which was in an absolutely lovely building itself, long and arcaded with a terrific selection of books…it was a privilege for us ex bookshop-owners to see it….More footwork led us to the square with a statue of Camoes, the famous Portuguese poet. I was always familiar with Camoes as, when on my visit aged 13, I fell head over heels in love with our local guide, she gifted me a copy of his poetry. Ah, the joys of being 13! Maybe I read this of his….
Love is a fire that burns unseen,
a wound that aches yet isn’t felt,
an always discontent contentment,
a pain that rages without hurting,
a longing for nothing but to long,
a loneliness in the midst of people,
a never feeling pleased when pleased,
a passion that gains when lost in thought.
It’s being enslaved of your own free will;
it’s counting your defeat a victory;
it’s staying loyal to your killer.
But if it’s so self-contradictory,
how can Love, when Love chooses,
bring human hearts into sympathy?
and here, by chance, the 28 tram was waiting for us to board, and we took it to its terminus by the cathedral called Sé. The word Sé derives its name from the initials of Sedes Episcopalis which when translated means bishop’s seat. Interestingly the first bishop of Lisbon to have his seat here had no roots or ties to the region but was actually an English crusader named Gilbert.Through the gates opposite the cathedral was a marvellous park, which even in the dark we enjoyed! And on the other side of the park we found a local bar/restaurant. It looked busy with locals eating, but the door was shut. Undeterred we knocked, and the friendly owner admitted us through what we saw was a disguised heavy iron security door. He quickly made two tables available for us, and we enjoyed a nice relaxing bottle of vino verde our first of the trip (but not the last). It was late but when we asked what time he served food till, he said 2am…….quite astonishing!Next day, which dawned nicer, we made for the historic area of Belem and had our first breakfast of croissants and pastel de nata at the historic Pastéis de Belém. We were so lucky in our timing not to queue in this astonishing place which makes 20,000 of these alone each day and which is an absolute maze of a building holding up to 500 foodies.the front shop itself is extraordinary….and it adjoins the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery where the first tarts were baked…thank goodness Jennifer knew all about this place! A pleasant stroll through the park by the side of the River Tagus took us, past the marina, to the monuments which remind us of Portugal’s significant role in the Age of Discoveries. The Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) was built in the 16th century as a fort to protect the coast from foreign attacks, and like the Jerónimos Monastery, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an example of Manueline architecture.and further on was the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (or Monument to the Discoveries) which was built in 1960 and pays tribute to 33 prominent figures in Portugal’s Age of Discoveries, including Henry the Navigator and the poet Luís Vaz de Camões.Wandering back (we did a lot of wandering) we saw the old crane which lifted the sea-planes from their landing site……commemorated in a rather nice sculpture…and enjoyed the port architecture (so different from many ports I can think of)…. and thrilled Jennifer (only joking) by letting her stand on Brazil….in this rather nice map of the world…..Our next stop, past some more stylish buildings was the Alfama district by far the oldest of all districts in the capital of Portugal. It has kept a strong medieval atmosphere, mostly due to the fact the 1755 earthquake had no impact on the area (given the solid dense rock foundation of the district).
at the top of the hill is the imposing castle of St George which we visited. Very interesting history…Moorish at first and then captured by the Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land, at which it became a royal palace and fortification for King Afonso Henriques in 1147. Its battlements and towers are well-preserved and the views of Lisbon are stunning.
Another day and more pleasure. To be honest I was just as happy wandering the streets near our hotel in the commercial sector and admiring the different styles of buildings. Pity there is no book on ‘the buildings of Lisbon’ or come to that ‘the buildings of Barcelona’ (I have looked far and wide).but our destination today was the Escher exhibition which we had noticed was on when in Belem. It really was worth the admission price (cheap). It was fascinating to learn how Escher’s work developed and how it became of interest to scientists and mathematicians (amongst others). By looking at his earlier prints and lithographs of stays in Italy and Spain, of nature, and of Moorish art, you could see how this would lead him eventually to the works of ‘impossibility’ for which he has become so famous…It was his minute viewing of detail that led him onwards…
and wide interest (although strangely not in the art world) led to him doing commissions for bookplates,album covers (here Pink Floyd)and even fashion….Not all exhibitions hold your interest all the way through, but this one did. From the exhibition we went to meet one of Jennifer’s friends who lives and teaches in Lisbon, Tanya. We met near our hotel in a lovely old-fashioned tea rooms which reminded us of Betty’s in Harrogate….A lovely friend from whom we learned a terrific amount about Lisbon and living in Lisbon. I feel guilty about not inviting her with us to dinner.
Our meal this evening was in a Times recommended restaurant in the Market, the largest market in Lisbon, the Mercado da Ribeira which as well as selling fantastic produce during the day (which we missed), also houses a large food pavilion created by Time Out where some of the city’s top chiefs have bars….for on the ground floor this is just like some street market of your dreams, unlike anywhere I have ever seen, and with a buzzing atmosphere from the crowds of mainly young eaters. What an amazing place. Being slightly separate upstairs we went to Pap’Açôrda, one of Lisbon’s most iconic restaurants, and we were not disappointed. Fantastic food (including their signature chocolate mousse served from the biggest bowl of chocolate mousse ever seen), fantastic value. One of our best-ever meals.
Next day started with breakfast at Lab near the hotel, a pristine, wonderful bakery with incredible value and delicious food. We then took the train to local seaside hotspot Cascais, along with lots of Lisboans and enjoyed a pastel de nata on the sands soaking up the sun….before wending our way through tourist streets and back streets, again admiring the architecture…and the pavements…up the hill, past the citadel in order to lunch at the marina and get a shot which is iconic…very nice too….our next move was by Uber to Sintra a quite extraordinary town in the mountains where we didn’t quite manage it up to the castle or one of the royal palaces because of a snarl-up in traffic, but enjoyed very much looking round the quaint town itself and having a coffee in another traditional cafe full of atmosphere …….on our last night we had to decide where to eat, a no-brainer really….theMercado da Ribeira in an attempt to find the stall where the Times correspondent had had pork cheek on mash. Again the whole ground floor was swimming with people all enjoying themselves immensely and there didn’t seem a seat to be had anywhere. We were so lucky to find four seats in our last trawl up the aisles, two on either side of a local couple who charmingly moved so that we could sit together……..and the incredible bit was that this was exactly the place where pork cheek was served. We did enjoy our food, the vino verde, and the atmosphere, as our studied concentration shows…..terrific.
So, our last few hours in Lisbon, what to do? A stroll down the streets from our hotel with its quirky mural for breakfast at Lab (of course). Then into town through more beautiful parks and past more really interesting architecture….
Finally, on Tanya’s recommendation by Uber to the Parque das Nações which was built for Lisbon’s Expo 98. It’s a futuristic new town of modern apartments and gardens flanking various tourist attractions, including a casino, science museum and an Oceanarium which is one of the largest in Europe. It made a very different diversion for us, and i even managed to go on the cable car with enjoyment….a first.
As you can see a quirky, colourful, pleasant, clean, interesting capital city which we all really enjoyed. Can’t wait to go back. Thanks David and Jennifer…..
Back to a rainy London, but when you are away you forget how wonderful London really is, what incredible architecture and art it contains…..we were off to the Tate (never visited before), but I simply couldn’t resist taking pictures of the buildings we passed on the bus and walking….
And so the Tate…..it’s a bit late in the day for me to be going to these wonderful places for the first time, but probably that makes my wonder and enjoyment even more powerful. It was a great building….with all the ‘additional’ bits and pieces you would wish…..but absolutely marvellous to see art in the flesh within touching distance one had only seen in books or on TV…how infinitely better to see the real thing…..and to see the development of British art through the ages (which is what the Tate is all about)art so luscious at times you could eat it!extravagant busts by Le Sueur… and a bust of Wellington cleverly placed in front of a canvas of Waterloo…and statues so tactile you wanted to touch (too many people around of course)…..and what a really good idea Reynolds had to picture a young lad as Henry The Eighthand to finish we enjoyed a guided tour around the paintings of Turner (of which the Tate has the most incredible collection)….so much better than wandering around on our own to see it through the eyes of an expert….a tremendous experience, and how lucky the Art School next door…….
An evening was spent seeing the area where Jennifer is to start her new job – the Embankment….
plenty of interest around…a memorial to the very great W S Gilbertand one to the King of London’s sewage……(and much else to be fair)and she will be working in the iconic Adelphi building, very impressive indeed…strange that there should be a statue of Robbie Burns in front…..and after all we (or rather I) couldn’t resist a drink in another iconic building yards away…Gordon’s Wine Bar thought to be the oldest wine bar in London having been established in 1890. Can’t wait to meet Jennifer from work!
Our last morning on this lovely trip was spent using our National Art Passes once more to visit Chiswick House………
The house and grounds were created by two Georgian trend setters, the architect and designer William Kent and his friend and patron Lord Burlington, the third Earl. Influenced by their travels on the Grand Tour, they rejected the showy, Baroque style, fashionable in England, in favour of a simpler, symmetrical design based on the classical architecture of Italy. They championed the work of the Venetian architect, Andrea Palladio and Chiswick House was one of the earliest English examples of what is called “neo-Palladian” style…..’
We were impressed as soon as we entered the grounds….
and after our usual coffee and pastry in a rather nice cafe full of dog-walkers and Mums with children, we found the inside of the house as Classical and refined as the outside…with long vistas….and Roman statuary…elegant rooms beautifully decorated…
paintings displayed as they would have been….…as original paintings of the house interiors showed….and we even were impressed by the Blue Drawing Room…not usually my cup-of-tea….The Orangery (must this be the largest?)…was especially breath-taking..and the grounds worthy of a more extensive exploration on a nicer day…What I find really heart-warming is that the Ministry of Works who restored the building, and now English Heritage, have done so much to trace many of the original contents and restore them to their rightful place. They were helped by the Devonshires of Chatsworth who had taken many things to Chatsworth when they rented out Chiswick from the 1860’s….they have been very helpful in bringing back furniture and paintings. But also people like the V+A who held certain items in store have loaned them to their place of origin. Why oh why is this not done almost as a matter of course when all our big institutions have hundreds of thousands of items in store? Perhaps a lesson to be learned here….I do hope so……