28th May 2019
My brother Donald has recently retired from his role as headmaster at Dilworth School in Auckland and is over in the home country for three months. Leaving from Manchester with sister Rachel and brother in law Brian we caught a flight to Lisbon. From a previous blog you may recall that Donald and I visited Porto two years ago and very much enjoyed the Portugal experience so a return visit to a different part got the vote over other options discussed.
The plan was to be based in Lisbon for three days and then tour the Alentejo region for a further five days, finishing up the trip on the beaches of the Troia peninsula. We left on Thursday 16th on a late Ryanair flight which was not enhanced by a drink fuelled stag party on board. Leaving and arriving late we got into Lisbon in the wee small hours of Friday 17th and bunked down at our comfortable and spacious Air Bnb at 113 Rua da Magdalena. This was an excellent location with easy access to the main sites of the city and relevant transport links.
We were never going to cover the city in three days, so we focussed on specific items. I would expect to be back to Lisbon in future, all being well, to cover the many places not visited on this trip.
Friday 17th May
We started by walking to the Praca do Commercia, (known locally as Palace Square). This is an impressive open space with grand buildings all around. Apparently it was the site of the royal place for over 400 years and has a large statue of King Jose 1 in the middle of it. From there we caught the very old and rickety tram along the river to the area of Belem. Riding these trams is like a step back in time. Highly recommended but they are packed out with punters and the queues to get on are sometimes large.
Belem has a number of sights which are well worth taking in. A major event which took place at the site was the departure of important historical figures on their quest to discover remote parts of the world over 500 years ago, designated the Portuguese Age of Discovery. On the Belem waterfront is a massive angular Monument to the Discoveries built in 1960 which dominates the area and highlights prominent individuals who played their part, such as Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama. From the top of the monument there are great views over Mosterio dos Jeronimos, which has a beautiful cloister and the connected Church of Santa Maria which has unusual octagonal pillars. Hopefully the photos will do some justice to these.
Just a short walk along the waterfront in Belem is the Torre de Belem which was built between 1514 and 1520. This was the actual starting point for the navigators who set out to discover the trade routes. It has Moorish style watchtowers and rope carved in stone adorns the exterior. Within walking distance on the way home we stopped at and joined the queue at the original home of the famous Pastel Nata tart referred to at length in my Porto blog.
The Alfama district we were staying in was packed out with eating choices, with seafood predominating. We went o the Eating Bear Restaurant and I tried the seafood tacos which had been recommended to me prior to going on holiday. They were tasty and spicy although sharing is best as I struggled to eat three!
Saturday 18th May
Sintra had been recommended as a place out with Lisbon to check out so we headed there on the train from Rosario Station. The journey took 40 minutes. Sintra is a place for castles and a fort so there are no shortage of places to visit and I have probably taken too many photos but the subjects just draw you in.
There is a huge national park overlooking the town and after haggling we got a tuk-tuk up to the Palacio da Pena. This Disney-esque building was built in the 19th Century as a summer palace for the young husband of Queen Maria 2nd. It has an eclectic mix of styles and colours so I will let the photos do the talking. Also within the national park are the ramparts of an 8th Century Moorish castle Castelo dos Mouros. The climb up the walls is rewarded with fantastic views over Sintra and the surrounding countryside.
Descending into the town we came across the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, the 14th Century Royal Palace. We didn't have time to look into it due to the ground we had already covered on the day. Note to any aspiring travellers: if doing Sintra from Lisbon get up early and make it a dawn 'til dusk day out. You will need the time!
Rachel and Brian's friend Enrique had recommended that we try some of the local pastries so we visited Periquita2 (they have two outlets) and tried the Travesseiros and Queijadinhas offering. Both are recommended! In the evening we waited for a record hour and ten minutes to get into the famous Ramiro seafood restaurant. The food was amazing but can't imagine I would ever wait that long again for a table.
Sabbath 19th May
A day of rest was required and I spent a fair bit of it in the nicely shaded Jardim do Torel just north of where we were staying. It was very quiet with locals only. Nice views of the city with Jacaranda trees shading part of the park.
This concludes the Lisbon section of the trip. Frankly at least a week is really required to do Lisbon and some of the surrounding areas justice. I would hope that I will be able to return at some stage. Overall compared to Porto, Lisbon is of course much larger with more districts to cover. The quality of the cuisine, the range of available options for eating and the friendliness of the local population however, is exactly the same. Larger cities can tend to be faster and less friendly but this was not my experience. Again, compared to Italy, France and Spain, Portugal is definitely the cheapest option with more quality for your money. Local travelling, entrance to tourist sites and cost of coffees, pastries and main meals are all exceptionally good value. I am only just starting to get to grips with the history but given that democracy is relatively new here, it does not seem different in almost every way compared to neighbouring European states. I hope you enjoy the photos I have posted. I must warn that there are more castles to come as we move to the Alentejo region of the country.
All the best