I arrived into Lisbon via high speed train from Porto (3 hours) and got off to find it was 34C. I took the blue line metro to where I was going to be based, Chiado, a residential area established in 1567. Walking up yet another inclined street halfway up one of Lisbon’s seven hills, I had to break for gelato while re-orienting myself with a map and get out from under my pack (but seriously, do you really need a reason for gelato?)
Since Monday I have done 3 organised tours around Lisbon which has been great as now I know more of Lisbon’s history, and also allowed me to let someone else do the driving for a bit, but it also means that I earmarked today (Wednesday) as a day where I am plan-free, and can just wander where I want, following the streets up and down hills and stopping for food when I find somewhere cute.
Tips from Lisbon
1. Lisbon is cobblestoned. Everywhere. The plazas, the footpaths, the roads. Everything is done in cobblestones around 6cm square. There are billions and billions of cobblestones in Lisbon.
2. Cobblestones obviously make for a bumpy ride. Children in prams are one of two ages: old enough to hang on to the sides of their pushchair as they go, or oblivious.
3. High (stiletto, spike) heels are a waste of time here. The gaps between cobblestones are just wide enough to swallow a heel. Now multiply that by the amount of 6 x 6cm cobblestones in a square metre of footpath and you suddenly see what you are up against. Luckily, the Portuguese make excellent boots and shoes with a larger heel so people can actually walk from one place to another.
4. Roads are very very narrow, and often do not have enough room for 2 cars to pass easily. When walking in Lisbon (and especially in the Barrio Alto area, you must be aware not to get taken out by wing mirrors of passing cars as you walk along the footpath.
On Tuesday I took a tour to Sintra, which is where the Portuguese monarchy used to summer as it has its own micro climate, generally 5C cooler than Lisbon, situated up in the hills and studded with royal retreats, estates, castles and buildings from the 8th-9th century, surrounded by trees and parks.
We visited “Quinta da Regaleira” – a millionaire’s dream (and all his eccentricities) brought to life by the famous Italian landscape artist and stage designer, Luigi Manini. The features of the grounds include an “Inverted Tower”, a 27 metre staircase that leads straight down underground and connects with other tunnels via underground walkways, grottoes, a Roman Catholic chapel, a greenhouse, a romantic 5 storey palace – including Gothic pinnacles, gargoyles, capitals, and an octagonal tower; and 2 artificial lakes.
Lunch was a picnic at what was once considered the end of the world, Cabo da Roca; the western-most point of mainland Europe and described by 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões as the place “where the land ends and the sea begins”.
On the way back into Lisbon we also visited the beach area of Cascais, and Belem in Lisbon – where we ate pastéis de nata (Portuguese egg tarts) at Casa Pastéis de Belém who famously use the original recipe created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the nearby Jerónimos Monastery.