The week before last we spent a few lovely days in Lisbon for C's birthday. It was the first time either of us had been to Portugal and I have to say we both really liked it. The higher temperatures were especially welcome, it felt like a final fling with summer before returning to the UK autumn. Lisbon is extremely hilly - we'd been warned but were still taken by surprise! The most definite silver lining to all the hills was naturally the views: a few steep climbs ended in the most gorgeous landscapes of the city, with the river on the horizon. So many of the big cruise ships dock in Lisbon, I loved watching them sail in and out, massive boats but some how rather graceful.
I thought I'd share a few highlights of this lovely city here. It was a bit rougher around the edges than I imagined but had loads of character and was a wonderful place to visit. We stayed in the Alfama district, which spreads between the castle and the river. Alfama is famous for its steep winding streets and Fado bars, the mournful Portugese music genre with its roots in nineteenth century maritime Lisbon. (See here for a famous fado performer)
On our first afternoon we explored Alfama, climbimg relentlessly it felt, but being rewarded with stunning views which melted in a gorgeous hazy sunset scene.
The next day we explored some of the highlights including the most incredible cathedral, Igreja de Sao Roque, which looks rather plain from the outside...
... but on the inside is covered in gold, marble, jewels, and beautiful ceramic tiles. It was really rather overwhelming, very grand and ornate.
Another, altogether different, religious building was the Convento da Ordem do Carmo, which is a monastery and church destroyed by the devastating earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755, killing as many as 90,000 of the city' 270,000 inhabitants. The ruins are striking and sparse, pointing to how destructive the earthquake must have been
After the convent we wandered down to the Praca do Comercio, which is where all of those arriving by boat used to disembark. It's a large impressive square with an arch leading to the bustling streets of central Lisbon.
The afternoon we spent exploring Lisbon's castle, which provided us with stunning views over the city and ramparts, with its beautiful (apparently heavily restored) fortifications and lovely quiet gardens.
The following day we headed to Belem, a more nautical area of the city, from where colonial explorers departed for the new world, and fortifications protected inhabitants from invaders. We started off in the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, an amazing monestary which is now divided into museums. You can also still see the cloisters and the church, which are very impressive.
We then ambled towards the sea front, where we found a monument to Portugese colonisers and explorers...
... lots of sailing boats, a wire sculpture where people symbolically lock their love with a padlock, and the Torre de Belem, a fortress built in 1515 to defend the harbour. You could feel the Atlantic winds!
Overall we had a wonderful time in the Portugese capital. It wasn't a resting holiday, but that wasn't what we signed up for - we enjoyed exploring the winding streets and climbing the hills. Our trip has definitely made me want to explore more of Southern Europe!