Lisbon

I arrived in Lisbon on Western Christmas 25th December in thee evening. Portugal was my 60th country despite it being one of the most intriguing to me since childhood. The oldest capital in West Europe, it has ancient beginnings by its name is derived from the Moors who called it Lissabonna, and its capture by crusaders laid the foundation for a great capital. But even then Lisbon suffered horrific damage in a great earthquake of 1755 and it is said that it has never regained its prestige since then. But it would be a pity to miss Lisbon. There is still an aura of grandeur, history, and art in its streets and like the rest of Portugal friendly and warm People. It is a city I definitely want to return to.

Fado

Don’t miss listening to Fado, the Portuguese blues. Having met Natalia we tried to see it a venue but it was too busy. The next evening I went to Clube de Fado which is an expensive Fado value but service was perfect, food good so left me with no complaints and fado acts seemed greet.
Do make it on your list. Assuming you like live music or blues especially.

Lisbon is great for walking or for its trams. One of the biggest tourist traps is Tram 28. Nearly every guide book says one should take it (along with 12). And that is the problem. I had to queue for over an hour. Yes it is an experience, it goes through lovely streets and past buildings you walk through anyway. It is not expensive. But it’s crowded and it took over an hour to board although I was travelling at off peak times. If one is short in time then it may be best to observe from outside. The trams with their lights have a charm at night, in fog it would be more so but you are likely to get clear sunny weather in Lisbon. The city is suited for walking but like San Francisco it can be an uphill task although more moderate than the US coastal city.

Walking is a delight and I met kind Beatriz, as we walked within the city out of the tourist areas. Occasionally entering a grand church along the way and park. What makes Lisbon special though is like Rome it is situated on 7 hills. And in the case of Lisbon it has so many outstanding views called Miradouro. I vested several and so should anyone in the city. The views are beautiful from each. The view from Castelo de Sao Jorge is beautiful but arguably not even the best. The castle which is free for residents was € 8 but it did not turn out to be a tourist trap. The walks and views from the walls are pleasant. And if views from these sites are not enough there are elevators which at a cost can provide another beautiful view.

Portuguese cuisine
Portuguese food can be the subject of high praise from … Portuguese. Using a 19th century example

Without a shadow of a doubt the Portuguese is the most refined, the most voluptuous and succulent cuisine in the world..We did acquire – thanks to the spices of the Orient, the tangy bits from Brazil and the art of using sugar from sweet-toothed countries, Turkey, India and the Moors of northern Africa – culinary skills, foods, delicacies, recipes, which turned us into a foremost gastronomic people. There is no other country that can boast such an array of national dishes..Fialho de Almieda – Os gatos (1893) – translation as in Lonely Planet May 2003

However guidebooks tend to view things slightly different. LP 2003 edition warning travellers not to get their hopes up. Portugal did play a vital and primarily role in bringing spices to Europe but the food in restaurants was typically far simpler, and less varied than many. Admittedly I don’t eat fish and that is probably the Portuguese trump card.. but if you don’t eat fish then it is unlikely that you will be anywhere near to agreeing with Fialho. Having said that Portuguese cakes while sugar laden are nice. Pastel de nata is a personal favourite of mine. Believed to have been invented by monks Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the 18th century there is a famous café – Casa Pasteis de Belem. A certain tourist trap and my host Ana and Joana had told me definitely not the best place in Lisbon and I agree. I visited several other places which exceeded it. Nevertheless by guidebooks and the café itself it is considered the place to be.

Another reason the streets of Lisbon and not just Lisbon but Porto and other Portuguese cities I assume is the azulejos tiles as well as the Manueline architecture. This is what gives Lisbon its charm and along with Spain and Italy some of the friendliest people in Western Europe. In fact this is what I like about Portugal the most. The tiles and architecture were great but second.

I had a kind host Ana for my return to Lisbon (having gone to Porto in between) and her friend Joanna (of course also very kind).
For the last day of my trip I went to Belem. Considered a must see for many it is not my favourite of Lisbon. I rather preferred Alfama and the city centre region. Belem Tower is famous but many tourists have expressed a dissatisfaction of inside. I did not enter. But I did the Padrao dos Descobrimentos. Inaugurated during the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator, great Portuguese heroes such as Vasco da Gama, Diogo Cao, Magalhaes and others are represented. The view is not outstanding (you are spoilt for choice in Lisbon which has many outstanding views!) but the monument is very nice.
A few museums are in the area as well as the almost mandatory Casa Pasteis de Belem (see Portuguese cuisine) and the expensive but extremely popular Jerónimos Monastery, built in memory of Vasco da Gama, and does have a pretty cloister.