São Jorge Castle – Lisbon Portugal

The São Jorge Castle is a Moorish Castle that dates back to the 2nd century BC, though ongoing archeological digs has reveled that human occupation of the site started long before the existing castle was built. The castle and the surrounding neighborhood of Alfama was relatively unscathed by the 1755 earthquake that flattened the city and killed over 100 thousand residents. The earthquake did however damage the castle to a certain degree leaving only the walls of the old structure.

It is one of the more popular sties in Lisbon. Due to it’s closeness to the docking point for tour ships as well as it being one of the only sites open on Monday’s it was quite crowded when we toured. We were lucky enough to get to the ticket office, which is just outside the main gate, right at opening and got in before a line formed. But we did end up leaving a little early because the crowds were unmanageable (see picture above for the end of line to get in). I would suggest going early and not on a Monday when other sites are open which may alleviate the crowdedness.

 

I may have enjoyed watching cars try to pass through the crowds waiting to get into the castle a little too much. One of my favorite things about Europe is the abject not giving an F. Don’t get me wrong, I love Europe and the kindness of everyone I have met. But in the states everything has to be carefully controlled. This type of thing would NEVER happen back home, there would be safety rails and specific places for people to queue up. You would never be allowed to walk and drive in the same place. I love seeing people have the freedom to make their own decisions and look out for their own safety rather than constantly being babysat. Social rant over, back to castles!

 

There were about 7 peacocks and peahens roaming around the gardens and grounds. Naturally they were a big attraction to tourists. I was happily taking a picture of one and then looked up and realized there was one in a tree looking down on me. That ended the picture taking for me quickly. They are very pretty but a tad big to be comfortably standing over me.

Once done wandering around the grounds you can enter the castle and make your way up and around the castle walls. The views were amazing, though the passage ways and stairs narrow and with all the other tourists it got to be a bit much for us. So we wandered back to the court yard, got a coffee (espresso) and sat in the sun and enjoyed the views for a  while.

The views from the court yard are truly unparalleled, you can walk around the whole southern tip of the top of the Alfama hill which overlooks the whole city from the west to east. My mom couldn’t stop taking pictures, so I took pictures of her taking pictures.

Sometimes I accidently take pictures of myself and they turn out better than the posed ones.

I was completely obsessed with these houses and their gardens. I took about a hundred pictures, dreaming up big plans for my own yard this spring. Too bad my house doesn’t come with stone walls and a terracotta roof. Someday, maybe, here is to hoping!

Address and additional information: R. de Santa Cruz do Castelo, 1100-129 Lisboa, Portugal

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Christmas Eve in Lisbon Portugal, Or “The Day we Got Nothing Done”

We came to Portugal with an extraordinarily large list of things to do. With four adults all with widely varying interests it was bound to be a busy trip. European countries has be a challenge to tour at Christmas, things tend to be shut on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Sundays, and Boxing Day. We had heard that Portugal doesn’t totally shut down like say Austria would at Christmas, so we were hoping to get to see a few more thing. But come Christmas Eve most everything was shut and we lost a day of museums and tours. Which in reality was quite good for everyone, the people who live and work here got to spend the day with their families, my mom and husband who were quite sick with the flu felt less guilty laying around all day and it gave us a leisurely day to just wander around and explore. Which happens to be my favorite way to tour a new place.

I haven’t the faintest idea what this mural was for, it obviously wasn’t graffiti and the horses looked like Seuss characters. What ever the reason they were there, they made me smile.

We were staying on the boarder of the Baixa and Alfama district. Our street was the last street in the Baixa that was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755. Everything that sat “behind us” in the Alfama neighborhood pre-dated the earthquake. One such building only about a five min walk from our apartment was the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major. Built in 1147 it is the oldest church in Lisbon still standing and is the see of the Archdiocese of Lisbon. While I love beautiful ornate baroque churches there is something special about gothic architecture. While I am not catholic or religious in any way, I did choose to light a candle. Though in typical me fashion, I nearly lit myself and the sweet elderly woman standing behind me on fire in the process. When I went to leave I looked back and saw my candle was already out. I tried, folks I tried.

 

Christmas Eve was a Saturday so we were on the look out for the Thieves Market or Feira da Ladra. Which happens every Saturday and Tuesday year round. It is the largest flea market in Lisbon and totally worth the trouble locating. Imagine street full of small vendors, garage sale items, old and new shoes, food stuffs, jewelry and antiques. You name it they have, they probably even have that thing that was stolen from you earlier in the trip.

We set out looking for the market which was said to be by the Santa Engracia Church in Alfama. When we got to the church it was silent, the gates were closed, the court yard was empty, there was no traffic or people milling about. We were really confused. After standing around frustrated for a few min, I gave up and started exploring the church’s exterior because its beautiful and why not….well it is BEHIND the church. So if you try to locate don’t make the same mistake, find the church, then walk behind it and you literally cannot miss the market. It is amazing. And of all the things we did while there, I enjoyed the market the most.

We also scouted out the walk to São Jorge Castle a roman and pre roman structure, monument and archeological site that overlooks the city. We found my dream apartment on the way, blue tiles ground to roof and rooftop balconies. Sold.

We walked through a small dog park like area that was covered in graffiti and was clearly an old structure of some sort. Everywhere you turn in this city is a beautiful view. We finally wound up locating the entrance of the castle which turns out was REALLY close to our apartment, we wound up walking all over the Alfama district for no reason. Well, it was beautiful and we had a great time so it wasn’t a total loss.

Much of the original city wall exists around the Alfama district, you can follow it around and find small gates and walking streets that lead up to the top of the hill as well as the old city well, the wall of which can still be seen in the picture above.

 

The crest on the city well, which if I remember correctly from the plaque was the original well for the main castle as well as the poorer citizens that lived outside the city walls. As you wander around the original city walls you will find many small archways which were the entrances into the city. They still exist and exist mostly as foot traffic passage ways up until the residential area of town.

 

Something to note about Lisbon, they have very strict rental control laws. As such you will often see beautifully updated apartments next to dilapidated ruins. People who live in the Alfama district have probably lived there their whole lives, apartments turning over to new family members as the years go on. Because of this the area still holds a lot of it’s original charm, as well as being quite outdated but you can feel the sense of community walking through the old quarters where the city has stood for centuries, where Fado music was first conceived, where people have lived since before the roman occupation. It is quite exquisite and should not be overlooked.

Monument to the Discoveries – Lisbon Portugal. 

There is a large concentration of free monuments and sights in Lisbon. Sadly since were only there for 7 days, two of which were walk around days since everything was closed for Christmas, we didn’t get to do everything we wanted.

One of the things I wanted to do was go up to the top of the “Monument to the Discoveries” or “Padrão dos Descobrimentos” for those that speak Portuguese.

The statue was built in 1958 through the efforts of the Ministry of Public works in order to commemorate anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The monument sits on the banks of the Tagas River in the Santa Maria Belem area of Lisbon.

When we visited it was getting late so we made the decision to just walk around it rather than go to the top.  It was also under construction or cleaning of some sort so it was difficult to make out the entire structure. However it was still quite impressive. If the scaffolding hadn’t been blocking my view, you could see going up the stairs from the bottom to top 18 prominent leaders and discovers from Portugal as well as 16 more on the other side.

The area that the monument shares an area of town that also houses the Jerome Monastery, the Belem Tower, the Maritime Museum and one of two Military Museums in the city.

To get there from the Baixa area (which was our home base for Lisbon) catch the 15E street car at the Praca Dos Comercio and exit at the Belem stop. You can’t miss the monument it is visible from the street car stop itself, but you will need to get past the highway to walk around the waterfront area it sits on. Walk through the gardens outside the Jerome Monastery toward the water and you will see a staircase down underground that looks like a subway station, instead it is just a walkway under the highway that comes out right behind  Padrão dos Descobrimentos.

If you are feeling homesick and hungry while in the area there is a McDonalds and a Starbucks at the Belem street car stop. You can also get the famous Belem pastries at the Pasteis de Belem also at the street car stop.  We however chose to eat at the cafeteria at the end of the Maritime Museum and quite enjoyed ourselves.

Address and additional links:

Padrao dos Descobrimentos Avenida Brasilia, Lisbon 1400-038, Portugal

Belém Tower – Lisbon Portugal

If you have even once looked up information about Lisbon you have probably seen a picture of the Belem Tower. The image seems to be synonymous with the city itself. The tower was originally built in the 16th century as a ceremonial gate to the Tagus river continues to stand today as a UNESCO word heritage site today.

I could go on and on about it’s history and architectural style but there are plenty of sites that will give you far better information than I ever could.

Instead lets talk about getting there and what to expect.

I was having a hard time getting a picture of the tower itself, we were there at about sun down, and no matter what angle I approached the exterior it wound up in deep shadow. Despite the poor lighting for exterior shots I would probably go back during the same time of day. Being on the waterfront at sun down was nothing short of stunning.

There are also several food and beverage carts in the area, a wine cart (which my mom recommends), a hot dog cart (which my husband recommends) and a froyo cart (which I really wanted to try but it was too cold). So I would highly suggest timing your visit toward the evening on a warmer day, so you can tour, then sit and relax with a treat and enjoy the sunset.

The tower is in the Santa Maria de Belem neighborhood. To get there take tram 15 and exit at the Belem stop. Tickets for the tour are bought at the Jerónimos Monastery where you can also get tickets to tour the Monastery itself, and several other sites in the area (except not the Maritime Museum as discussed here). To get there, walk toward the water and west along the river bank. You can walk straight there along the highway and cross over on a foot bridge, or walk under the highway near the Padrão dos Descobrimentos and walk west along the river bank. Though if you do this, since there are a few small boat moorings you will have to walk around them in a couple locations, it is however the prettier route.

The structure itself is quite small, you enter via a small bridge weaving around all the selfie takers and slightly confusing lines at the small door entrance. One line for getting in, one line for getting out and a small line coming the opposite direction to get back up onto the platform and tower.


The bottom of the structure holds a small prison and gun slots. The upper platform has small turrets for keeping watch, and then the tower itself which I did not go up because of the sheer number of people waiting to go up a VERY narrow stair case, leads I am sure to some very stunning views. My lower views were just fine by me. Looking west you can see the large opening of the Tagus where it meets the Atlantic. And looking east you can see the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Crito Rei statue up toward to the Tagus estuary.

The 25 de Abril Bridge is the largest suspension bridge in the world and while it looks nearly exactly the same as the Golden Gate Bridge it was not built by the same maker. It was however built by the same US maker that built the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge. Side note a fact we learned from one of our drivers, the Tagus River while quite large is actually very shallow, you can see in the picture above a large shipping barge which is about as far as larger ships can make it up. The cruise ships dock just past the Alfama district and after that the river estuary is impassible for larger boats.

Baixa – Lisbon, Portugal

Another one of my favorites in Lisbon was the Baixa neighborhood. This is the area of town that was flattened during the giant earthquake in 1755. When it was rebuilt it was rebuilt in the “modern” style (modern for the time) and with straight roads. It is one of the only areas of Lisbon with straight roads. It reminded me a lot of the main shopping district in Vienna, though Vienna’s pedestrian only shopping street seems to be endless, where as Lisbon’s is just the right size.

The central street is a pedestrian only street choc-a-bloc full of restaurants, cafes and shops. The side streets off the main pedestrian only space are also pedestrian only, though as you get further out more and more streets have car traffic as well. At one end you have the Terreiro Do Paço a public square on the waterfront that is ringed by cafes and restaurants. And at the other end a rather busy square that houses hotels, public transit stops and the Rossio Train Station.

The mix of architecture in the area is overwhelming, sings from the 1920’s standing on buildings built in the 1700s and everything in between. The main square which I think may be called Rossio Square though I couldn’t find any definitive information, has a large fountain in the center and is surrounded by a stunning array of services from old shoe shops, tabaco shops, modern hotels, pawn shops, fancy restaurants, bars,  jewelers, and even a McDonalds.

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The apartments at the top of each building in the square reminded of apartment’s in Paris though I suppose that shouldn’t have been surprising given they probably belong to the same architectural time.

We spent a lot of time in the Baixa, it was close to where we were staying and given the time of year and that it is a fairly bustling tourist hub a lot of the services were open where other areas may not have been. There were loads of shops for me to spend my evenings wandering around in, as a non night-scene person it was really nice to have a reason to be out without all the drama of bars and clubs. There was also this ridiculously cute pug having a ride about town.

There was also several pastry shops that we visited on more than one occasion. They were crowded and frenetic and made amazing coffee. They were always stuffed full of locals and severed everything from pizza to Portuguese pastries like our favorite, Chocolate Salami.

Chocolate Salami in fact has nothing to do with meat but is a chocolate fudgy dessert that is rolled up with cookies and nuts and then sliced to serve.  We ate a lot of it, and I mean A LOT OF IT. I think I probably had some everyday. Lisbon is known for the Pastel De Nata which are very good but I Chocolate Salami really blew me away.

Part of the draw for me to the Baixa was the use of it in the filming of the Spanish Language TV show El Tiempo Entre Costuras or The Time In Between. Which is adapted from the book of the same name. Most of the show is filmed on location in Moracco and Madrid but the later part of the story heavily highlights Portugal and Lisbon and Estoril were used in filming.

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One such filming location, though technically in the Chiado district it is only a block or so down from the Baixia, is the glove shop Luvaria Ulisses which has been operational since 1925. As a lover of all things Art Deco I knew I had to go there and buy a pair of handmade gloves. The shop is so tiny there is only room for the shop attendant and one or two customers. What you see below is literally the whole shop, when you walk in there is nothing more but the small door to the closet like stockroom. But it was charming and wonderful and we all of course walked out with gloves.

 

 

Museu de Marinha – Lisbon Portugal 

One of the things that was high on my families list of must see’s in Lisbon was the Museu de Marinha also know as the Maritime or Navy Museum. As you may know Portugal was kind of a big deal there for a long time. In fact once upon a time they were the wealthiest country in the world.

They were the first country to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, they corned the market on trade with India and had some of the most expansive territories across the globe. Columbus the man who “discovered America” was actually Portuguese sailing for the Spanish. However, after the devastating earthquake in 1755 most of the countries money went to rebuilding the city and the royal houses. Following this a lengthy occupation by Napoleon that caused the royal family to flee and rule out of Brazil. Then came the world wars which inevitable broke up countries foreign holdings in the end resulted in a Portugal that is no longer the mighty power it once was.

The museum which covers early discovery all the way through modern uses of the coast guard and navy is one of the most robust I have ever visited. I thoroughly enjoyed the care and time that was taken to display such a vast history.

There was so much to see I was a little overwhelmed and as such the only picture I remembered to take was of the figurehead below. I couldn’t stop laughing for so many reasons and at the same time cannot begin to describe why it struck me as so funny. Other than the obvious, that people of all ages can’t seem to keep their hands off her. Shameful, immature and so hilarious.

The museum itself resides in the same building as the Jerome Monastery however ticketing is handled separately.  From the street car stop walk toward the monastery and to the end of the building, turn right and you can’t miss the museum’s entrance. When you first go in, go upstairs first, it is easy to miss but there is a large collection of model ships up there that we nearly didn’t get the chance to see. Then come back down and continue through the historic timeline from the golden age of discovery up to modern day.

Bathrooms are downstairs near the end of the indoor exhibit, as well as in the cafeteria. The cafeteria at the end comes highly recommended from my family. Simple food but fresh salads and delicious meat pies hit the spot after a long day.

 

You can learn more about the museum and Portugal’s maritime history with the links below:

Location: Praça do Império, Belem

Open Hours: 10AM-5PM (Oct.-March), 10AM-6PM (April-Sept.) (Closed Mondays)

http://www.maritimeheritage.org/ports/portugal.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navy_Museum

Lisbon, Portugal

Twenty sixteen, the year many have called a monster, was the year that my family will forever call the year we went to Lisbon. We spent Christmas in Lisbon, and it was magical. Not ice skating in the park, seeing old timey Santa’s and baking cookies magical. But peaceful, relaxing, goodwill to mankind kind of magical.

We knew we wanted to go somewhere for Christmas, while I love the season it gets to be a bit much and it is nice to escape with a few people and concentrate all your energy on them.  Rather than spreading yourself so thing you get tried of everyone and just retreat until sometime in March when the sun comes out again.

We knew we wanted to go somewhere warmer, though knowing this we still picked a location with averages hovering around 60 in December. So while it was chillier than any of it probably had hoped the sun was out every single day.

We started off our Portuguese adventure in Sintra, Portugal. We spent a couple days wandering around small towns and then we yet again braved the traffic to return our rental car at the airport. I will say in general for us Oregon residents, it isn’t the easiest place to actually get to but even knowing that I would do it all over again. And probably will. It is a smaller country with significantly less air traffic than the larger likes of France, German and England. Thus two flights minimum are needed to get there, if not more depending on how you are trying to cut costs. Though this would be different for those lucky enough to live on the east coast which also cuts flight time down nearly in half.

All my research indicated that the Lisbon airport is very hard to get out of, cabs tend to rip you off and public transit is a nightmare. We didn’t use public transit to go to and from the airport. It was a tad confusing flying out of the airport (partly due to the early hour we did it) more on that later. After we had returned our rental car we had a shuttle driver scheduled to pick up us up. We were a tad apprehensive after hearing all the horror stories. But exactly at the time we had originally planned a very nice man with my Mom’s name on a sign came bounding across the roadway all smiles and pleasant greetings. Took all our bags, helped us in the car and off we went. He gave us a tremendous overview of the city on the way to our apartment.

We got in to Lisbon midday due to our slower pace with sick family members in tow. Settled right in and headed off to the grocery store. I LOVE grocery stores in other countries. I also really love cheese, and Portugal and cheese are BFF’s, so now Portugal and me are BFFs. Needless to say, my cart was mostly cheese and local breads.

After putting our food stuffs away we wandered down to the waterfront to catch the sunset and get a feel for the area. And I can honestly say without a doubt no place has ever felt more comfortable and welcoming. It seemed like the whole city was out to sit on the waterfront, drinking and laughing, lounging, catching up with old friends. It was a work week but everyone had the relaxed air of vacation. Like I said magical.

The first full day in Lisbon we hit the road (tram) and went to visit the Belem area of town. It was quite a trek from where we were staying and we didn’t really want to have to make our way all the way back over there so we crammed a lot into a single day.

Our second full day was actually Christmas eve so not much got done. We did eventually manage to find the Thieves Market but most sites were closed due to the holiday and that was mostly fine by us. We wandered, snacked, and enjoyed just being in a new city.

The third day was Christmas and of course nothing was really open. We had all been secretly shopping for one another all week so we had Christmas stockings full of local candies, cheese, mini port bottles and random trinkets. We drank coffee, snoozed, ate too many pastries and then went on a nice long walk around the city. We did find one restaurant in the tourist area that was open which had a spectacular view of the Baixa and Alfama area’s of town so I ordered a giant tuna steak and watched the tourists milling around below us.

The day after Christmas was a Monday and as such most tourist sites are closed, however we lucked out and the Sao Castle was open. We got up there right when they opened and lucky for us, by the time we were done the line to get in was out of control.

Tuesday we made our way up to the Carmo Convent and stumbled on a lovely free museum next door. It ended up being one of our favorite sites the whole trip. It was put on by the Portuguese National Guard and offered a more recent history of Portugal’s political and military happenings. It was really impressive and well curated. Sadly there wasn’t a donation box otherwise I would have given them loads of money. We also made our way across town to the Military Museum which seems small and unassuming from the outside but was ridiculously comprehensive and wound up taking us most of the day to go through.

Wednesday we made our way over to the big cathedral, found a nice park and also visited a burial site under a bank.

Thursday we left at 2am ugh. I would not recommend this, and it wasn’t actually our intention. We made our reservations well in advance and between the making and the actual going the flight patterns changed and we got bumped to an earlier flight. I chose not to sleep as I get very anxious the night before flying, waking constantly thinking I have slept through my flight. We were also worried our shuttle would forget us, but just like the last he was prompt, helped with our bags and chatted with us the whole way. He told quite the story about his father who is the calmest kindest man in the world, but when he drives around the city he turns into a sailor (swearing at everything) we laughed and couldn’t disagree with the driving habits of the locals.

 

Some sites I found helpful in planning: