Lisbon sits on the Tajo River right near its mouth where it is wide and still quite swiftly flowing. Our campsite was on the coast a little south of the city on the other side of the river. The best way to get to town is a bus then a ferry to the Belém area then a bus or tram or train to the centre. The bus was a little late arriving at our stop and so arrived just as the ferry was pulling out. No worries we thought - we'll get the next one in half an hour. But the next one wasn't for one and a half hours... So on advice from the helpful ticket seller, we caught another local bus to another port quite some distance away and took the ferry from there. The tour of the built-up areas on the way wasn't particularly inspiring but the ferry did deliver us to the centre of town.
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo is housed in a former 16th century convent. Its 'thing' is tiles, with displays ranging from the 15th to the 20th centuries. It was magnificently presented with wonderful displays of tiles from old churches, monasteries and palaces. The old convent also had its chapel still intact with the original tiles still in situ. Here we also had lunch in a lovely part of the convent looking out to a garden - needless to say it was also lined with panels of blue and white tiles.
Most of Lisbon was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755 and so most of the city dates from then when rulers and architects took the opportunity to put in a new grid for the streets and new buildings all looking pretty much alike in style. There are lots of pedestrian streets many of which are cobbled in patterns of dark and white stones. Some of them are wavy patterns, and although you know the paving is flat, the optical illusion generated makes it look like the surface undulates.
The city is well served by trains, buses and trams and a 24 hour ticket on all public transport is only €4.60, so is great value. The trams are sleek, modern and quiet or tiny, old rattlers. These have wooden and leather seats, are all lined in timber and have old-fashioned push-up windows. And straps to strap-hang on. We caught one of them just to have a scenic ride around the city. It seemed like every visitor to Lisbon had the same idea and getting a seat with a good view - or indeed just getting a seat - was not easy. These little trams rattle their way up and down steep hills and along winding, narrow roads where there is just room for it and a row of parked cars. Any traffic stuck behind these trams stays there for the duration.
Belém, the area on the western edge of the city, is a tourist attraction in its own right. Here is a huge limestone monument erected in 1960 for the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. It sits on the shore facing out into the river. At its base is a huge world map of inlaid marble of the Portuguese discoveries of the era. Belém is also home to the Tower of Belém which is Portugal's most photographed monument. It was built in 1515 and used to sit mid-stream. Now it is only a couple of metres off shore and easily reached by ramp and walkway. It is like a huge hexagonal chesspiece built as a fortress to guard the entrance to the harbour. The climb to the top is only by a very narrow, spiral, stone staircase. The log-jam of people climbing up and down is the most time-consuming part of any visit!
In the city we walked into the foyer of a bank to find a teller machine. No teller machines, but a very nice display of Roman artefacts. While browsing around, we were told that a guided tour, free and in English, would be starting in about half an hour. So after coffee and cake in a pavement cafe, we hot-footed back for the tour. Along with a French family, we were taken inside the building to see the remains of baths, floors and tanks that were used for the production of salted fish and sauces for export all over the Empire. We descended stairs and walked through the basement of the building with more excavations easily seen from suspended timber walkways. Sometimes it's the chance discoveries that are the memorable ones!
Lisbon has much more to offer us we are sure, but being a bit castled- and cathedraled-out, we passed on those two big sites. We were lucky with the weather too. Apparently there had been three days of wild storms just before we arrived! Some fellow travellers in the campsite said they had just stayed in their van for three days - it was too awful to go out! But we were lucky for our visit with days of sunshine and calm water for our ferry crossings. The paper reported that Portugal has had its warmest October ever - all records broken. But will it hold out as we travel north??