Night plane to Lisbon
Wandering and exploring a small part of Portugal on my birthday. There are so many reasons to love the country, but to name a few: Lisbon, fado, pastéis de nata, miradouros, azulejos, Sintra, Cascais, trams, the Atlantic Ocean, Vasco da Gama and castles.
I knew I want to visit Lisbon after I saw the movie Night train to Lisbon. Since I found the movie fascinating, I started reading about Portugal and Lisbon, in particular. I discovered Fernando Pessoa and its inspiring poems. Pessoa, the famous Portuguese poet and writer, said that “Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveller. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.”
One day I was in the English bookstore in the centre of Brussels to buy the book by Pascal Mercier, on which the movie is based, and I saw the book next to the sign “Like all travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen”. I bought the book and my plane ticket the next day. If this is not a sign, I don’t know what is!
I arrived after work by plane at night in Lisbon, hence the title. I arrived in Praça dos Restauradores exactly the night Lisbon was celebrating Sardine day or the feast of St. Anthony (Os Santos). There was music and a beautiful parade and actually in the entire city was so much joy and a big party.
Lisbon is best to be discover walking or taking the vintage trams. I always take a long walk when in a new city, doesn’t matter if is raining or is sunshine (both scenarios happened while in Portugal). Each neighbourhood is different, so I started in the animated neighbourhood Bairro Alto and continued to Alfama and Graça. Thanks to many hills in the city you can have breath-taking views from many “miradouros” – bird eye view. My favourite ones were Miradouro das Portas do Sol in Alfama and Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara by night.
In addition, to travel between the picturesque Baixa (Lower Town) and Carmo Square you can use a lift: Elevador de Santa Justa. This is the only vertical lift in the city – the other two are funiculars – Elevador da Bica and Elevador da Glória.
Speaking of architecture, the beautiful Oriente train station was built by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Nearby is the Vasco da Gama bridge, the longest bridge in Europe, that spans the Tagus River.
Also, everywhere in the city you see beautiful azulejos – the Portuguese and Spanish word of Arabic origins for painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework. Portuguese use it to decorate the inside and outside of houses, churches, castles with this colourful azulejos.
The next day I had planned a walking tour in Alfama – the oldest neighbourhood of Lisbon than was not affected by the massive earthquake from 1755. The highlight of the day was the ride with the vintage electric trams – cute, noisy, but enjoyable and one of a kind. My favorite part of the route of the classic yellow tram 28 starts at Se Cathedral.
From Alfama I walked up to Castelo de São Jorge and admired the view of the city and explored the fortified citadel that dates back from the Moorish times.
Belém and the Age of Discoveries
When you go to a new city, you travel also in time. In Lisbon, you feel you travel back in the Age of Discoveries.
This is what I felt in my trip to the neighbourhood Belém, packed with monuments and places to see. There you can visit Jeronimos Monastry, one of the most visited landmark in Lisbon. Across from the Monastery is Padrão dos Descobrimentos or the Monument to the Discoveries, where you can see the statues of famous Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Cabral and other explorers. Nearby is Belem Tower – the city’s icon and another symbol of the Age of Discovery.
For the sweet tooth, the original recipe of the most appreciated pastéis de nata (or custard tarts in English) is in the Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém (Rua de Belém 84-92). The famous pastry shop is often packed, but is worth the wait to try the pastéis de nata from here.
Now that we covered dessert, we go to main course, since food is a favourite topic in Portugal. While I was there I tried sea food, fresh Portuguese grilled fish and bacalhau (Portuguese dried and salted cod). For drinks, in Alfama I tasted ginginha, homemade cherry liquor, and green wine.
I knew that this trip would be great since this country invented two things that I absolutely adore: pastéiss de nata and fado. I first listed fado live at BOZAR in Brussels. I attended the Citizens dialogue where Placido Domingo was one of the speakers, and then Katia Guerreiro sang fado to close the evening.
To listen and experience fado in the perfect location, is recommended not to fall in the tourist expensive traps, but head to listen fado in a traditional place. I was lucky that my friend Bia, that was living in Lisbon at the time, took me to A Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto (Rua do Diário de Noticias, 39), a cute bar where you can order Portuguese green wine and listen authentic fado singers.
Perfect location for amazing day trips: Sintra for castles and Cascais for the Atlantic Ocean.
Sintra is about a 40-minute train ride away. I catch my train to Sintra in the morning from Rossio train station, which is located in central Lisbon and on the way back, I stopped at the beautiful Oriente train station mentioned earlier.
Sintra is an UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason and is a fascinating place to visit. We only visited one beautiful castle, Pena Palace, so I have still plenty of reasons to return, hopefully on a sunny day. I was “lucky” enough to be in Sintra in the only day of that summer that was raining, but perhaps rain made my visit to this castle even more magical. In addition, you can visit National Palace and the Moors castle.
Being born at the seaside, home is where I hear the waves, so to head to the Atlantic Ocean in Cascais was an amazing experience. The train journey to Cascais takes about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the number of stops, and I took the train for Cais do Sodre train station.
The beaches here are sandy and with crystal clear water. The main beach in Cascais is Praia da Ribeira, but my favourite one was Praia da Rainha.
Portuguese people seems the kindest people I have met in a trip this year. Everybody that I stopped to ask for direction helped me immediately and always with a smile on their face. But I guess is understandable when you live in a city with 200 days of sunshine and the Atlantic Ocean and mountains nearby.
Looking forward to plan my return. Thank you for reading! Adeus e obrigada.
Text and article photographs: Aida Mola