Aeroporto da Portela- Lisbon, Portugal

I wanted to really quickly touch on the Lisbon airport because I think an airport experience can really make or break your trip. So knowing what you are in for can help alleviate some of the travel pains.

Airports in general are inherently stressful, thousands of people of various back ground and cultures all desperately trying to get somewhere. On a schedule they have no control over, while they are quite likely under-slept, under-washed and underfed. I think it is safe to say that the actual getting there is often the least fun part of any trip.

I do a lot of research when planning a trip and try my best to make sure our flights are convenient and touching down on airport that I know will make our trip more pleasant.  In researching for our trip to Lisbon last year, I found a lot of negative opinions about the Lisbon airport but since there is no other viable options in getting to Lisbon on the timeline we were looking at we had no choice but to fly to it.

 

All in all I was fairly impressed with the airport, granted that might in part be due to my low expectations. But it was a lot better than people seem to have claimed. Landing, disembarking, locating the baggage claim and exiting customs was all clearly communicated and easily understood. Locating the rental car counter was just as easy and before we knew it we were on our way. My husband even left his sweatshirt on the plane and when we went back to retrieve it the flight attendant rushed back and got it for us without any hassle.

When we returned the rental car halfway through the trip, again it was all hassle free. We studied the signs heavily before returning the car since they aren’t in English and we knew going in that it would be confusing. But since we had done that pre-work we knew exactly where to go and the return was simple. The attendant was kind, the process was easy and we walked away cheaper than we were quoted originally. This was point a concern of mine as a lot of the reviews said they got hassled for more money upon returning the car. Maybe because we paid for the insurance a head of time, or maybe because we chose a well known world wide rental agency rather than a cheap local one I cannot say. Whatever the reason, it was quick, simple and pleasant.

The only trouble we had with the airport was when we left. We had a VERY early flight, and even though all the travel advice on the planet says to be at your international flight three hours early most ticket counters don’t open until 6am. So if you have a 6am flight (like we did) no one will be there until about an hour before your flight. I am not saying don’t show up early for your morning flights, because you never know who will open when. I am just saying chances are if you show up early for your early morning flight out of Lisbon don’t be surprised if the TV monitors don’t show your flight, and that there isn’t anyone to help you until slightly before your boarding time.

Since we didn’t know this, we didn’t know the airport and none of the signs were in English it took us a while to figure out what to do. So I will tell you, when you enter the airport go up the small flight of stairs to the right, and go back until you see the ticket counters, you cannot see them from the front doors and that was confusing. Once you get checked in you will have to go back into the airport even further to go through security, which is very strict for how unassuming it looks. Again we were confused but we followed the crowds and we wound up in the right place in the end. Last but not least the airport itself looks like it was built in two era’s, one part in a 1970’s sci-fi movie and another part recently renovated. All of the shops, food and bathrooms are located in the recently renovated part to the right of the security stop, and the older part of the airport is to the left where most of the boarding gates are. So now you know! Enjoy and happy traveling.

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Azulejo – Lisbon, Portugal

If you have seen even just a single image of Portugal, chances are it had azulejo in it. Azulejo is a form of painted glazed tile, whose history dates back to the 13th century. These beautiful painted tiles are synonyms with the country and Lisbon in particular. And for good reason, they are stunning.

My research so far seem to point to Seville Spain being the epicenter of the Azulejo movement in the 13th century, at the time it was heavily influenced by Moorish culture and as such the tiling technique were perfected here.  King Manuel introduced the techniques to Portugal after a visit to Seville and the rest his history.

The Sintra National Palace has an impressive display of both indoor and outdoor tiles. We wound up skipping  it because of sick family members and a want to get settled in Lisbon before Christmas but I would love to go back and visit. There is also a tile museum in Lisbon we didn’t make it to that would probably worth the time if you had an interest in ceramics and history.

My favorite tiles I saw in Portugal were at the Pena Palace in particular the gold tile in picture above. The room was dark so the picture is terrible but I was memorized and wound up holding up a long line of tourist trying to take pictures of it.

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A slightly better picture of the gold tile seen above, but it doesn’t show off how vivid the gold was.  I just want to touch it. Which is frowned upon and often ends in being ejected from the building. So I resisted, this time…

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Pena also boasts a large college of relief tiles, I couldn’t find any information on the history of the relief tiles, though given when Pena was built I would imagine it was all the rage in the 1800s.

Where as the more standard and repetitive tiles were more common closer to the 15th and 16th centuries.

At various points in history production of tiles moved out from Spain and Portugal to their colonies, a large amount of which landed in Brazil.

Where as the blue and white tiles were more likely from the 18th century and of Netherland origin.

And the blue and white tiles with scenic motifs are possibly even newer and mass produced with industrialized methoods in the 19th century.

If you are really intrigued by the history and tile facades Lisbon Lux has a nice round up of the prettiest facades in Lisbon. Complete with addresses for each building so you can go see them for yourself if you are ever in the area.

Lisbon Lux also has a nice round up of the best tile panels in the city, if you are more interested in the mosaic picture rather than the repetitive patterns.

Tram 28 – Lisbon, Portugal

Tram 28 is the longest public transit route in Lisbon. Starting in the Baixa district, making it’s way up into the Alfama, back down through Baixa and over through Estela. The cable cars that consist of the Tram 28 route are the original 1930 Remodelado cars complete with polished wooden benches, dials, doors and windows. Everyone likes to reassure tourists that the breaks have been updated since the 1930s, though the joke is that they are a bit too good, stopping can be quite jarring.

We took some advice from the rental office of our apartment and went to search for the starting stop of the tram line but it wasn’t where we were directed to go. This could be the fault of our inability to follow directions though. So we popped on a stop in the middle of the Baixa at about 7am and made our way up the front of the Alfama district.

The tram winds up through the ancient and narrow streets toward the castle, eastward into a slightly more suburban looking part of town then down the back side of the hill and back into the Baixa. At this point we didn’t actually know what was happening…everyone got off but it was the middle of a square and we thought everyone had just gotten off to go to work. We saw another tram up ahead with a huge line waiting to get into it and scoffed that the poor people that didn’t have the good sense to get on earlier. Then we got kicked off because evidently we were at the end of the line. Whoops.

So we very sulkily got off the tram dashed across the street to the other stop and waited in line to get on the Tram at the start of the line and we promptly got back on the same Tram we had just gotten booted off. It was all very silly. To avoid this confusion and embarrassment and a wasted Tram ticket, go to the actual start of the line at R. Sra. Saúde 6B, 1100-390 Lisboa, Portugal and try to get there as early as possible. You will see why later.

We enjoyed seeing the city from the new point of view, getting to see parts of town we had missed because we were always on foot and getting to watch people go about their daily lives is always something I thoroughly enjoy.

There is a lot of ongoing construction in Lisbon, this guy was just walking his work tools to work in the middle of the street. The mix of new and old is lovely and as always makes me dream of getting the chance to save an old crumbling building by brining it back to life.

These two building were right next to one another, one a crumbling shell of a building, only a façade left standing. If you look carefully you can see daylight through the windows as the building had no roof. Then directly next to it, this beautifully restored multi purpose apartment and shop building.

I am sure the Tram 28 cars are still operational for aesthetic reasons in part, as it does draw a good number of tourists to the area. However part of the reason why they are still operational is because modern day train cars cannot pass through the narrow streets. During most of the route the car swung through curves and around corners with only an inch or two to spare which at first startled me a bit but toward the end I felt a bit like I was on a ride. Or at least I did until we met a tour bus that clearly didn’t realize it wouldn’t fit up the street, and we came to such a quick stop I think I may have bruised a rib or two. The tram and the bus stood at a stand still for a good while, the bus eventually had to try to maneuver around the corner and past the tram on the VERY narrow street, I think the side mirrors touched. And as it passed I could see the look of sheer terror on the bus passengers faces. It all ended well and safely but what an adventure.

We chose to get off at the Baixa again as the tram was starting to get crowded and we didn’t have enough rides on our bus tickets to get back. Tickets again are bought at newspaper/lottery stands which bear the sign “Jogos Santa Casa” they are hard to miss and can be found on more than one street in the Baixa. We spent an hour or so after that eating gelato and watching the tram go by, it didn’t take long for the tourist crowds to take over and pack the tram to an uncomfortable level.

Close up, LOOK AT ALL THOSE PEOPLE! Needless to say, go early and go to the origination stop so that you can get a seat next to the window to fully enjoy the ride.

 

The Convent of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel – Lisbon Portugal 

 

One of the things I knew I wanted to see while we were over in Lisbon was the Carmo Convent, or The Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. All I knew about it going in was that it was a church that lost it’s roof allowing you to stand beneath the arches of it’s gothic structure and see the bright open sky.

 

 

As with everything else I found in Lisbon, the ruins of the church were everything I had hoped. After a short walk up the hill from the main shopping street in the Baixa (pronounced Bai-jha) district of Lisbon we found ourselves standing in a small square outside the convent next to a shoe store (more on that later) and a government building (more on that later as well).

The cost to get into the convent was minimal, I think perhaps two or three euro, and while the attraction itself is quite small it is very much worth it in my opinion.

 

The convent was built starting in 1389, and survived in tact up until the 1755 earthquake that flattened most of Lisbon, with the exception of the Alfama district which was protected by the large rock that it sits on.

Some attempts were made to repair the church, but in 1969 another earthquake hit the area toppling again most the of the repair attempts.

 

Today it acts as a monument and archeological museum, though as mentioned it is small, it is quite nice. There are a few gothic tombs on display as well as some local artifacts from Roman, Visigoth, and Moorish excavations. As well as a few artifacts from Peruvian digs.

There is a nice book store on the far left inside the museum itself, which sells quite a few children’s books, as well as tour and religious texts. There is also a public restroom near the entrance on the inside of the convent which is always good to know and not often found it seems when touring Europe.

 

Oh look at that, I take terrible selfies.

How to get there and links for more information:

Where: Largo do Carmo 1200 | Largo do Carmo, Lisbon 1200-092, Portugal
How: Metro – Baixa-Chiado Station, or walk which is what we did.
When: 10AM-5PM

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmo_Convent_(Lisbon)

http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/carmo-church.html

 

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

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