My feet still ache from all the improvised site seeing walks around this great city. Getting lost in Lisbon was the best idea and since I only had three days there I was determined to make the best out of my stay.
Having travelled for such a short time I picked central location in the old part of town, the charming Bairo Alto, famed for its incredible wine bars and high view points. My accommodation was sorted online through the Air BNB and in all my years travelling I recommend this site the most due to its ease of use and ratings system. Accommodation can be found at any price all over Europe and my double room was perfect for the two nights, together with a host who shares his passion for Portuguese red wine with all his visitors. If you are lucky you might also manage to squeeze in an accordion lesson from his French girlfriend.
The first thing that will grab your attention in Lisbon is the endlessly winding, curvy roads which go up and down in what must be Europe’s biggest car roller coaster. The cobbled roads at time get so steep charming old trams were installed to take people uphill and down hill, needless to say kids can also enjoy sliding down the tracks in the rain.
Lisbon owes most of its charm to the rule of the Moors which helped the city flourish in the early 700s. Their influence can still be seen today due to its architecture and street layout. Narrow, windy roads were carved out separated by tall buildings which helped keep the blistering heat off the streets.
The fascinating buildings are often covered with a façade of beautifully pattered tiles, with the bottom layer often missing due to thieves which have seen decent profits for their troubles.
Tiles in Lisbon are a sign of culture and there are thousands of different patterns available. Two young entrepreneurs this week opened up a shop in which they aim to deal tiles which are no longer in production. Their grandfather collected tiles for 40 years and filled a warehouse full of old treasure. Their aim is to continue collecting and selling tiles as for them it symbolizes culture. I was lucky enough to be invited in for a sneak preview of the shop called Cortico & Netos and I can not wait to return for the final product after having ben given a sample for my own kitchen.
Elaborately designed pavements lead the way around and I wish I had my go pro camera strapped to my head to document all the different patterns and to find my way home after. I was heading by chance to a place called Alfama, famed for its Market of Thieves.
Not put off by its deceptive name I stumbled across a genuine flee market selling everything under the sun, including the closest thing to Maltese bread I have ever tasted – ironically eaten as a huge flag bearing the Maltese cross flapped in the background. Food in these parts was very cheap and I followed the general rule of thumb: if the place is packed with locals the food and service will be cheap and good respectively – this little one called a Cantina did not disappoint in both aspects.
Fiestas de Lisboa
Travelling to Lisbon during June is a must as like in the Maltese summer months, timing is everything. Between May and June Lisboans celebrate the Fiestas de Lisboa – Lisbon feasts. These are a series of street parties all over town celebrating the season of the Sardines – Lisbon’s local pride. This coastal city boasts the largest Sardines in the world and these fish come with a seal of quality. Lisbon celebrates this by uniquely combining all the arts together as local musicians are supported by graphic designers and artists who have to design different sardine templates which are sold across town. Sustainable fishing is the order of the day in Lisbon and the taste of dinner was as pleasing as the price.
During these weeks locals do not only celebrate fishing but the Feast of St Anthony on the 13th June and St John the following week, together with St Peter. A good diet is essential to a Portuguese locals and most seem happy enough to boast about the fact that they know over 100 ways to cook cod, one of this city’s main food sources. Bacalhau – dried and salted cod is found anywhere here however I would avoid the promenade and dive inwards as in any city, the cheaper better restaurants are found off the beaten track.
Staying off the beaten track is a handy tip in Lisbon and the best thing to do is to take a ride on one of Lisbon’s most charming attractions – its old city trams which can be found anywhere. Look up while walking and you will find a criss-cross of electricity lines linking trams up and climbing aboard one will take you back through the decades. The 1950’s designed cabins are rather similar to old Maltese busses, with wooden lining across the sides and equipped with a grumpy driver the scene is set for a brilliant cruise around the city. Just watch out as local kids love to hitch a free ride while swooping for handbags along the way. You’ll soon learn that typical of South Europe there is no rush in Lisbon and this city certainly beats at its own pace.
Leaving the comfort of my tram I soon came across the famous Elevador de Santa Justa and I decided it was time to face my fears. This lift, built in 1902 serves one purpose – to offer you a birds eye view of the city and in this it does not disappoint. It carries scores of people daily and after paying just €5 you are ushered to a set of gates and moved into the lift cabin. This rickety cage ride is not for the faint hearted and if you thought it was over when you exit the lift think again: a spiraling metal flight of steps takes you even higher up to the breathtaking views of the city, panoramic views where you can see the castle of St George, the famous Cristo Redentor (Rio’s brother) and Ponte Salazar, or newly named 25th April Bridge that crosses the Tagus river.
Wanting to squeeze more into my short stay I headed for another one of Lisbon’s charming markets El Mercado da Ribeira. This unique food court seemed to have no end and served all types of typical Portuguese food, from black chorizo to all the shell fish under the sun – or the stars as day time slowly faded to night. Lisbon has tiny spots of beauty dotted around the city which provide unique viewpoints, particularly at sunset. People congregate here to play music and chill and the city’s spaces create a creative play space for artists to get up and try something new.
This city breathes creativity and people here enjoy creative freedom to express their talents, whether you are a singer, play an instrument or any type of artist. Little shops have began popping up all over the city selling art pieces promoting Portuguese culture and it is not worth going to a souvenir shop to pick up your memorable pieces as prices in these artisan shops are far better for a unique product.
The tall buildings and narrow roads provide ideal shade for achy legs the following day, however my lure to the heat helped me find the sun trap terraces which allow you to perch on top of a busy street watching life go by as you sip on a Café Solo flicking through a newspaper showing off Ronaldo’s goal celebration in last week’s Champions League final played here in Lisbon. Just when the Fiestas de Lisboa draws to an end another Fiesta kicks off in sister country Brazil – the World Cup is on everyone’s mind now, and these supporters are always craving a celebration, ready to party those hot summer nights away. If that wasn’t enough a host of live music festivals with top bands are being unrolled this summer and in my eyes Lisbon really is the place to be during the hot months.
All images my own, also found on Instagram
Article originally published on the Sunday Times of Malta
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