Welcome to Portugal!
After catching one of the most uncomfortable overnight buses from Malaga to Lisbon we arrive into Lisbon at 6am with weary eyes and stiff necks. The cost of the bus was considerably cheaper for our family of six than other modes of transport. At 330 euros all up (a small discount for Dacey being a child, another discount for booking in advance, plus going with the cheaper bus line ALSA and choosing the no toilet facilities option made it this low price). Don’t worry there was a toilet on the bus but it cost 1 euro to use it each time. Glad I’m not doing these uncomfortable trips all of the time, although maybe if we did do them more often we’d be used it. This is some of the crew in the middle of the night without sleep. And to make ourselves feel better we stocked up on junk food!
So our Portugal arrival starts at 6am. We pull into the Lisbon bus terminal Sete Rio and need to walk to the Jardim Zoologico situated, you guessed it, near the Lisbon Zoo. We haul our backpacks and now two suitcases (#onepinksuitcase and #oneredsuitcase) out from under the bus and pile it together by a grey wall of the empty bus terminal. It’s sunrise in Portugal and the sky is still a deep sleepy aqua blue. So now what? We have no Portugal sim card so that means no internet access. Steve has downloaded maps that can be used offline so we go to them for direction. They don’t seem to be working right now…Everything is closed and we are alone again.
In the end we follow where everyone else seems to be heading – out that door! We meet up with another couple who seem lost and an underground railway entry point that is locked. Hmmm…Steve walks over to the other side of the road and starts chatting to a couple of men and asking for directions. He returns to us on the other side of the road and says he thinks those men have been drinking all night.
But they give us accurate directions and we follow the footpath that winds around the corner until we come to the Jardim Zoologicico Metro Railway Station entry. Yay we’ve made the first find. Now to get on the correct metro train that will take us into the main Lisbon area where we will need to catch another met network to Cais do Sodre and make our way to our Airbnb located in a suburb of Lisbon called Parede. But first things first – navigating our way in a metro train station when nothing is open yet – it’s just after 6am – and we have no internet access. This just feels like the old days of backpacking – no online resources!
We find a long bench seat to sit on and lay down our backpacks. Steve wonders around looking for directions to the train network we need to be on to get where we need to get to. Tiredness starts overcoming us: Dacey lies down on the bench seat, Charlie starts dancing in the middle of the waiting area, while the rest of us sit with heads in our hands just managing.
Steve returns and I mention to him that we’ve seen a station information man walking around here not long ago. He appears again, so armed with now working maps, the information man points to where we need to go – downstairs, around the corner. Yay we’ve made the second find!
We are underground and the names are all matching up. The underground strain station is tiled white and I feel like I’m in another place. Unfortunately, the ticket office is closed, and we have to work out the ticketing system from a machine. We purchase six 24-hour metro passes that we are told will also work on our journey to Parede. Excellent! The tickets spit out of the machine and we are through the turnstiles and into the metro train precinct of Lisbon. Before long we are boarding a train to our next stop.
The two things I notice instantly while it’s quiet and less hectic at this unusually early time of the day is the amount of graffiti on walls and signs. It’s literally everywhere. The second is that every footpath is a cobbled stone one. No concrete but the beautifully rough carved stones that are placed side by side to form a footpath. It’s amazing.
We found some lockers to store our backpacks and suitcases in at the Cais do Sodre railway station so we didn’t have to carry our luggage with us all day around Lisbon (cost of 2 lockers was 3.50 euros each!). Once we were free from the carting, we walked out into the early morning city of Lisbon to explore it until we could get access to our apartment in Parede at 3pm.
We walked up and down the quiet cobbled streets of Lisbon. A large tree greets our first intersection and gives a good feel for our stay here in Lisbon. The diehard Saturday night partygoers are still out and returning home from a big night out. Bottles of unfinished beer are found in odd places like windowsills and steps. Still tired but now on a mission, we are looking for food and a place to sit and regroup. Nothing is open except for McDonalds so we enjoy breakfast there and free wifi and wait until the Information stand has opened in the square. Lisbon sits upon and spreads itself over seven hills with vintage trams and numerous tourist buses, tuk tuks and vintage cars vying for the tourists. A marching band and military parade happens right in front of us at McDonalds and we wonder out to look for a Vodafone to purchase sim cards. It’s easy to find, and we are back online and independent. The girls are just too dog-tired to walk around with us so they stay in the main shopping area where there is easy access to shops and Starbucks while Steve and I head out to see a little bit of Lisbon.
We are very impressed in how the girls have handled themselves and their tiredness so far. Dacey was so tired and usually she succumbs like a bomb that explodes all over everyone else. But this time, she communicated her feelings by saying, “I’m going to pop…I need to get out of here” and so on. She didn’t pop which is great for her and especially the rest of her family. Ash was great too as she can sometimes get overwhelmed without sleep. I think leaving them in Starbucks with some euro was the best solution for them to fill in an hour or so.
I’m impressed with the vibe that is Lisbon, even though we’ve only seen a small amount of it with very tired heads and bodies. Lisbon sits on the banks of the Tagus River near the Atlantic Ocean with Gothic cathedrals, bridges, vintage trams and traditional fado music. I look forward to spending a day in Lisbon to explore and experience everything it has to offer. Before meeting up with the girls, we stop at a cafe to enjoy a coffee and a Pasteis de Nata (or Belem). It’s a flaky pastry of custard made from the traditional area called Belem. These Belem’s have just come out of the café’s oven and are still warm. We try one and order another. They are to die for.
We wander back to the metro train station at about 2pm, collect our luggage from the lockers and try to board our train. Unfortunately, we are denied access with these train tickets through the automatic turnstiles and the line up to information and ticket sales is very long. We try again. No luck. Steve lines up while we guard the luggage. Dacey is starting to go all weird and won’t hand her metro card over to Steve. It takes a bit of coaxing but finally she hands it over. The man tells us that those tickets we purchased won’t work on this network line. So we purchase other metro tickets and we are through the ticketing turnstiles and board a train to Parede – about 10 stops away from Lisbon. I get stuck in the automatic closing door of the train, and unlike our train doors at home these won’t open when I push against them. I’m like a turtle stuck in a train door. Luckily a woman assists us and pushes a button on the side of the wall so that the doors reopen.
It’s just a 30-minute journey and we are disembarking Parede. But now we need to hail two taxis to get us to our apartment with all this luggage. Steve walks over to the other side of the platform, and returns telling us there are two waiting. We get there but no taxis are in sight. We call for a taxi, as there’s a small sign on the glass window sceptical that anyone will speak English but I’m in luck. This is not Spain where we found no one spoke English, but in Portugal it’s more common. I order two taxis and they arrive within minutes. Tick!
The travel life certainly is a lesson in patience, resilience, and learning to try different approaches to everything every time. Fail but keep going. Keep going and you succeed maybe not as you had first envisioned. But succeeded nonetheless.
We arrive to our Airbnb apartment to find it still being cleaned. We come in anyway and get a tour of the what’s so for this apartment and then we are alone after an hour. It’s heaven. Steve heads off with the owner’s uncle who let us in to the apartment to find out where the closest shops are while we take much needed showers, brushing of teeth and unpacking into our new abode for the next five weeks.
It begins to rain, light at first then sets in. We need to go for a walk to the shops to get food and supplies. Sounds like we are on a survival show. But it’s true – we need food to make our dinner. Steve, Charlie and I draw the short straws and walk in the rain up to the local supermarket to buy supplies. The supermarket is a decent size and has everything we need. Instead of legs of smoked and cured hams, the shelves are now stocked with frozen seafood – prawns, octopus and fish. Plus there’s plenty of dried saltcod on offer. We return slightly drenched but stock the fridge and the pantry. Everyone is happy.
Instead of cooking, we order pizzas online and get them delivered from the local pizza hut. It takes a long time to get the order right online with a few language barriers and attempts at getting our address correct. But the pizzas arrive and we are very grateful for them. Two minutes later we are in bed.
Big sleep in. Nothing is planned this morning other than slow recuperation after the journey to get here. The beauty of slow travel is that we can afford to recuperate and not feel we are missing a day of site seeing. The weather has turned awful anyway and the forecast is for rain most of the day. It’s perfect timing for all of us who just want to stay inside and slug it today. This afternoon the girls get their books out and start getting back into their school work. I do some writing, then lie on the bed from an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.
Steve leaves the apartment on a search for a take away coffee. I’m so desperate for a strong coffee this morning. He calls not long after leaving telling me that no one understands what ‘take away’ is here. He suggests that I meet him downstairs and we grab a coffee at a local café he’s found that’s open. The kids stay in the apartment while I meet Steve to get our bearings as to what’s actually around our neighbourhood. I have an unnerving feeling that we are in the suburbs and trapped from the necessities and conveniences of city life and what we got used to in Malaga, Spain. Some type of closure or unofficial siesta occurs here in Parede from 1.30pm until 3pm. Not as long as it was in Spain but nevertheless cafes and shops around our apartment close. We find a minimart closer to home, and a couple of cafes.
On the coffee front – no one here sells take away coffees! WTH? It can’t be true. But it is. The Portuguese seem to take their coffee as expresso and any variation to that is just like flavoured milk with coffee! I’m quietly devastated especially after finding the best coffee in Malaga in our final week living there. So I sit down at this little café with the other elderly patrons and order a coffee with milk. It comes as a very weak coffee as there’s more milk to coffee ratio, but I’m desperate for coffee and it hits the half way spot. Just.
Steve and I zig zag down streets and cross paths trying to work out where we are and what’s around us. We find a gymnasium and a tennis court, plus a restaurant or two. Finally, we stumble onto the main street of Parede and there’s plenty of shops and cafes and restaurants to choose from. Phew. Okay so we’re not in landlocked suburbia. In actual fact, we are in the most perfect location – about a 10-minute walk to everything we need: the local Parede beach (it’s the smallest beach I’ve ever seen), shops, supermarket, photocopy shop (for Distance Education materials, exams and tests), and post office (Dylan something is coming in the mail for you!). Steve the Airbnb wizard has done it again – in budget and in a convenient location to call our base home.
The weather clears up today and the rain disappears. We are not as tired as yesterday but still managing the bus lag. Unfortunately, I have a really sore neck on the left hand side from the bus journey and it’s causing me lots of pain. Nothing that a bit of deep heat and a deep tissue massage from my husband will fix plus some Paracetamol.
The girls study in the morning as I write and this afternoon we walk down to the main beach of Lisbon called Carcavelos Beach. There we take in the amazing scenery of a wide sandy beach (it’s the largest beach I’ve ever seen), waves crashing, blue sky and an impenetrable looking fort situated at the point of the beach. Oh wow. This is an amazing site for the eyes. It’s almost impossible to digest – the beach and the fort in the same photo. And as we walk closer to it we are more impressed by the glowing sunset light reflecting on its walls and the large Portuguese flag flapping violently in the wind. Steve makes friends with an Indian man who is walking along the beach selling beach throw rugs. They strike up a conversation and Steve discovers that the man’s home town is Jalandhar in the Punjab State up north in India. Steve apologises to him that we already have too enough beach throw rugs already that we purchased in India. Steve is truly the greatest conversationalist.
As the kids play on the yellow sandy beach Steve checks out one of the cafes and gets talking to Pedro. Pedro speaks really good English and gives Steve some tips once Steve clarifies that he’s an Australian staying in Portugal for five weeks. Pedro comments, “oh then you’re a real traveller then!” He is a funny and friendly man and Steve stands there talking with Pedro for a while. He tells some funny stories to Steve:
“When the Americans come in to Portugal on the boats they’re all confused because the boat comes through the head and they first see the ?? standing on the hill and think are we in South America [the statue looks like a replica of ?? in Brazil (a former Portuguese colony, South America] and then they see the 25 de Abril Bridge – a suspension bridge connecting the city of Lisbon to the municipality of Almada on the left bank of the Tagus river – and wonder if they’re actually in San Francisco [it’s made by the same construction company as the Golden Gate Bridge] so they have no idea where they are!”
He suggests that Portugal is a hidden treasure and off the main tourist map. “People get stuck on the main routes of Europe – thinking Portugal is too far – but they’re missing out.” I tend to agree. This part of the world is already showing us it’s a gem. “We have some of the best beaches here, but they’re cold and not like the Mediterranean.” Pedro thinks Steve is a Saint of some type for travelling the world with FIVE women and looking so fit. He tells Steve to keep walking around the corner, past the fort and there’s a wonderful view of the the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge (aka San Francisco bridge) and the ships coming in through the heads of the Tagus River.
We walk past a marina and its restaurants to the very end until we see the bridge in front of us in the distance. Half the kids have stopped walking and are refusing to come down; the other half (Steve, Charlie and me) are enjoying watching a cruise ship sail under the bridge directly towards us and out into the large expanse of water that we know as the Atlantic Ocean. We sit and watch and smile. What a view. What a place. How lucky are we.
We wander back and stop by at Pedro’s café for some drinks. Billie and Dacey opt for an ice cream instead, and walking back from the ice cream shop I notice two young boys launching a drone – the exact same drone as Charlie’s. They fly it up high towards the military fort facility and I’m amazed at their ability to launch it on the footpath in such gusty winds. They bring it back along the beach and very soon the lifeguards are approaching me telling me this is not allowed to be flown in and around here while I’m talking to the boys about how they find flying it.
The flyer of the drone is a blonde haired boy, just 12 years old with a 16-year old friend. I ask if he can speak English and he tells me yes as he attends an American school. After a little banter about drone flying he tells me he is from Sweden and he is a pro boogy board surfer (yes he is sponsored) and his 13-year old brother who is much better at flying the drone is surfing. He is very friendly and I get Charlie and the other girls over to have a chat about what strategies he could share for flying the drone.
Charlie plans on getting up earlier than what we have been in Spain and most recently in Portugal to do a morning walk and start running while living here in Lisbon over the next five weeks. The environment we are amongst is certainly calling for this: sun, sand, and sea! So we agree to set an alarm and get up at 8am for a brisk walk. It’s a beautiful day – the sun is shining and the beach is still relatively empty at 8.30am while the surf schools start opening their doors. Steve and Charlie jog along the beach while I power walk while listening to my recently downloaded meditation music.
I test the hypothesis that Portugal does not do take away coffee and it is disproved. Well more or less. I asked for a cappuccino but apparently this variety comes with whipped cream. WTH? Um no thanks. Can I have a latte with milk? Yes. Takeaway? Yes was the answers and I receive a small frothy coffee for 1.60 euro in a plastic cup – well two plastic cups for more support! It’s an okay coffee, nothing what was on offer in Spain. The search isn’t over just yet. The Portuguese are big into short blacks and small cups of expresso.
Steve continues on with a longer run along the beach, while Charlie and I walk back home. We are chatting so much we get lost and need Google Maps to assist us getting back on track. Ash, Billie and Dacey are still asleep! They’re still in Spanish time zone – late nights and longer sleep ins. So the doors to their bedrooms are opened and blinds raised to halfway to reveal many just open puffy eyes. We get the school work happening and then we’re off to the beach for a swim and sign up for surfing lessons.
We chat with Pedro (yes it’s a popular name here) and we are all signing up for surfing lessons on the Atlantic Ocean commencing tomorrow morning at 10am. Pedro tells us that we should be good at surfing since we are Australian and many of the world’s best surfers come from our home country. I hope we don’t disappoint Pedro too much tomorrow! The girls are excited and we are all looking forward to getting some physical activity into our Portugal days. We purchase 18 surfing lessons – so that’s 3 each for 225 euros including board, wetsuit, and instructor for 2 hours each lesson. I was going to sit this one out but after Dacey making a formal complaint that I don’t do anything fun like water slides (I really have a fear of them) and now surfing with her bottom lip turned inside out and down I change my mind and jump in with joy. I have a feeling I might be a little sore after this, as Pedro mentions that tomorrow the waves will be bigger. Hahaha…great.
We walk along the beach, scatter out our Indian cotton bed throws that have successfully been transformed into beach rugs while frolicking on and in the Mediterranean Sea in Spain. They’ll get used well here at Carcavelos Beach.
The alarm sounds and we raise the blinds in each of the girls’ rooms waking the tribe up from their deep slumber and dark room. Today is our first surfing lesson. Everyone is keen to get amongst the waves in the Atlantic Ocean on Carcavelos Breach and learn some surfing techniques. We arrive at 10am and are handed a board and a wetsuit. We change and come out looking like something more from the British children’s show like the colourful Teletubbies. I’m worried the teens won’t like the coloured wetsuit look we’ve all been asked to wear, but all is okay and we make our way down to the beach in pairs carrying the front and back of the boards under our arms.
We head off for a warm up on the beach – running, side stepping, stretching and joint warm up exercises. Then we listen to our instructor Filipe tell us the four safety points of surfing. The sun is out in its golden ray force this morning and we are sweating on the beach in our wet suits eyeing off the glistening water just in front of us. Next we are all lying on our boards and practicing the getting up on the board technique. Filipe shows us what to do and what not to do on the board. We take it all in and repeat the technique on the beach 10 times. It’s time to hit the water with our surfboards.
Unfortunately, the waves just don’t seem to be happening today, but we follow Filipe anyway and live in hope that we will get some surf action. And we do. We all manage to stand up on our board with a wave, but poor Steve makes a dive off his board on his first attempt and the board hits him in the face. Luckily all he has is a fat bottom lip. We enjoy the clear refreshing water and the chance to learn surfing right here in the Atlantic for an hour and a half. In the slow time between waves I ask questions – where has he lived? He tells me he lived in Spain for five years and sold real estate and during this time he lost some of his English because no one in Spain really speaks English.
We shower and change and Filipe asks if we’d like to get some lunch as he knows a great place. We follow him and arrive at the place where we had out drinks – white Sangria – the other night. We get to ask Filipe questions and watch him interact with all the people he knows on the sidewalk. Filipe has been surfing for 38 years and was born in Lisbon but lived most his life along the coast. He’s single and no children, and spends his time taking surf lessons because he loves surfing. In the winter – about three months – he leaves and heads to Indonesia. What a life hey. He’s got a big smile and a big heart and his English is really good. We sit together and eat a scrumptious lunch of salmon, egg, lettuce, tomato baguettes and hamburgers. Everyone is happy and gulping down the water after a morning surfing.
I ask if he’s seen any sharks – no. Not here and not in Bali either. We talk about Mick Fanning and his close call a couple of years ago in South Africa with a shark attack and Dacey’s fascination with shark attacks. He laughs. Filipe’s disposition is always friendly and happy go lucky.
Next question. Why do the Portuguese speak so much more English than the Spanish? He doesn’t know but a woman sitting at a table behind us is Spanish and so we start having a conversation with her. She tells us that English is not fully part of the curriculum in Spain, so if you want to learn good English the Spanish need to pay for it through private tuition and of course that doesn’t happen in many cases. Whereas the Portuguese have English as their second language and it’s taught at school. After only being here since Sunday we already get a sense how much of a difference teaching in schools makes.
Next. Which nationalities most visit Portugal? He shares that the Spaniards are keen visitors, as well as the French and English. Americans too in the middle of summer around August for some reason. Also the Brazilians come here and work and he’s a bit disgruntled at their ability to come into Portugal and work for half his wage. “About 50 million euros went out of the country – off shore to other countries. It is not doing Portugal any good.” He says he may earn 60 euro per day but a Brazilian will come in and do it for half the price. Undercutting the Portuguese labour market and then sending many of the euros back to Brazil which equates to good money back there.
After lunch we walk back to the surf school, and he introduces us to his friend Keiren who is Portuguese with a Scottish-English-Irish background and accent. He has white zinc cream spread all over his face and is very friendly and happy to meet and chat with us all about life and travel and surfing. I really love the Portuguese hospitality here – it’s very friendly and authentic. It’s that relaxed and warm that I feel like we have been friends with some of these people for a long time. It also makes a huge difference being able to communicate in English. We talk about being Aussies (we should all be amazing surfers!) and what it’s like to live and work here compared to London or Scotland. Keiren tried living and working in London on and off for five years but just couldn’t hack it. The lifestyle, the unfriendly nature of big city living. So he’s back here enjoying what he loves most – surfing and teaching surfing to others. He says it’s hard being in the water for so long, especially in winter time when it’s freezing cold (it can get down to two degrees) but he’d prefer doing this than living in grey London. I can see his point of view. I feel the same at times in our home town Melbourne’s long usually drawn out winter too.
We say goodbye to Filipe and walk back to our apartment. The girls need to complete some school work and I’m head down in my writing and creative pursuits.
Inspired by Felipe’s surf lifestyle philosophy of looking after your body Steve, Charlie and I head down early to Carcavelos Beach for a walk-run on the long stretch of sand followed by an Acai Bowl at the local café. I’m not running, but opting for a power walk along the footpath parallel to the beach with headphones in listening to a podcast.
I’m listening to Digital Marketing podcasts lately and getting some tips on creating an online business. With my background experience and qualifications grounded in traditional marketing, learning the nuances of digital marketing is like a brand new world. At 43 years of age I feel like a clux in this field, but I’m walking and listening with ears wide open and always learning something new.
We wander back and find three sleeping children (again). Next week will definitely look different.
The afternoon is spent on the beach but the wind is up this afternoon as well as the waves. We lie on the beach but the sand is blowing all over us and it’s not quite as comfortable as we thought it might be. Steve and Dacey brave the windy conditions and go for a dip and a body surf. Steve’s been teaching the girls how to body surf now that we have some good waves to play with and they’re all doing well at it. Dacey wants Billie to jump in the water with her, but Billie doesn’t want to this time, so Dacey walks off with her bottom lip out and refuses to talk to Billie. We decide it’s too sandy with the wind and move on to our usual place for a seat facing the beach for some refreshments and food – Tricana de Barra.
We’re exploring the capital city of Lisbon today. On our arrival we were majorly sleep deprived to fully appreciate the city of Lisbon and getting around to some of its interesting sites. So today we’re up early and catching a train from our local Carcavelos railway station to Cais do Sodre station in the heart of Lisbon. It’s 10 stops away and take 30 minutes. On arrival it’s not all that unfamiliar, and we walk up Rua do Alecrim planning on catching the heritage #28 tram to tour around. But as we watch the trams pass by us, we notice they’re packed with tourists like a tin of sardines. It is a Saturday after all, a busier time of the week. We’ll rain check the tram journey today for another day during the week when it’s (hopefully) a little less touristy.
It’s then that we turn towards the Lisbon district of Rossio where we found ourselves last Sunday heading to McDonalds (the only restaurant open early morning) and the information centre booth for some tourist advice on structuring the day. But we change our minds and start chatting to a tourist tuk tuk driver who’s a former Ukrainian now living and working as a tour guide in the city of Lisbon. If Lisbon has hills, they definitely have plenty of options other than walking to see and get around Lisbon. We decide to let the kids off from walking the Lisbon streets and pile into a 6-seater sparkling white open air elongated electric tuk tuk for a tour for the next 90 minutes.
We choose to explore the old town of Lisbon with Nikolei driving and explaining as he drives the history and significance of various landmarks in and around Lisbon. His accent is a little difficult to understand, but our hearing soon adapts. The electric tuk tuk vehicle is very quiet that we can’t even hear if it’s on or not, and its ease of driving up the steep hills of Lisbon means less complaining from the kids!
1st Stop: The actual place where the 1974 Carnation Revolution began
The goal of the insurgents was to overthrow the authoritarian dictatorship that Portugal had been living under for 40 years better known as the Estado Novo (New State) that was developed by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1926-1968.
This was the start of the downfall of the authoritarian regime in Portugal which was one of the longest lived right-wing in Western Europe and the final dissolution of the incredible Portuguese empire. Apparently citizens placed red carnations inside the revolutionary’s gun barrels and pinned them onto soldiers uniforms. Thousands of Portuguese citizens descended onto the streets and mixed with the military insurgents even though they were asked to stay away. Four people were killed, but that was it – quite unusual for an uprising against a long-standing authoritative regime as the revolutionaries did not use direct violence to achieve their goals in overthrowing the regime.
These events sparked massive change in Portugal – social, economic, territorial, demographic, and political – and started the implementation process of Portuguese democracy. It took two-years to transition to democracy with social turmoil and power disputes occurring between left and right wing political forces.
Portugal’s new democratic era saw the immersion of a new constitution, censorship being prohibited, free speech declared, political prisoners released and Portugal’s overseas territories in the sub-Saharan Africa granted independence. This last one the granting of territorial independence produced a mass exodus of Portuguese from the territories creating 1 million refugees and civil wars in their wake.
2nd Stop: Se de Lisboa Cathedral of Lisbon
This Roman Catholic gothic looking cathedral is the oldest church in Lisbon and was built in 1147 on a historic mosque site which stamped the Christian Crusaders dominance over the Moors. Commissioned by the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, for the city’s first bishop who was the English crusader Gilbert of Hastings. This cathedral stands as a historical symbol of the Christian Reconquest.
It’s another impressive piece of architecture inside and out with solid walls and two imposing clock towers, large porch and a decorative glass rose window. However, its imposing style and architecture makes it look more like a fort than a place of worship. The cathedral has been modified many times throughout history, and survived numerous earthquakes. The worst earthquake was the 1755 earthquake which is known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake.
Our friendly guide Nikolei informs us that once a year here in Lisbon, the streets are closed around the Cathedral and the more newly built Church and the Portuguese government offers free weddings! Couples (straight and gay as gay marriage has been legal here since 2010) get married on this day for free without having to worry about the exorbitant costs associated with weddings. What a great idea!
3rd Stop: Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte
Due to the capital of Portugal being built on a set of seven hills, there are many high places showcase the amazing outlook of downtown Lisbon. This particular miradouro (outlook) looks out and down across to Lisbon’s River Tagus and towards the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Monument to Christ. An absolutely spectacular view of orange-brown tiled rooftops and whitewashed walls. The outlook wraps itself around a corner and is sheltered from the hot sun by a series of mature and closely planted pine trees that whistle in the strong breeze.
4th Stop: another Lisbon church, lookout and then we say goodbye to Nikolei
90 minutes was over just like that and we jumped back into Nikolei’s tuk tuk and he dropped us off at another lookout – Miradouro de Santa Luzia – near a series of steps that lead up to St Jorge’s Castle. The parking is extremely difficult in Lisbon, and the police are red hot on overstaying or double parking tourist vehicles. So we virtually jump out of the tuk tuk along the side of the road and Nikolei gets out and shakes our hand quickly and smiles and wishes us all the very best. In a second he is driving away back down the hill while we contemplate where to get some lunch that isn’t overpriced tourist food or a take a visit to the castle. Lunch wins amongst this tribe and we find the closest most authentic looking Portuguese café we can find as we want to try the iconic Portuguese cultural cuisine of Bacalhau – salt cod.
For 7 euros we order three dishes of Bacalhau arroz e salad which translates to codfish, rice and salad for Steve, Charlie and me. While Dacey orders vegetable spring rolls (she is still not wanting to eat animal’s flesh), and Ash and Billie order two crumbed pieces of pork in a roll. The restaurant is a bit hot and stuffy, but we are grateful to have found somewhere with vacant seats to enjoy lunch. The meals look amazing when they arrive – the piece of cod is thick and deep fried accompanied by fluffy Portuguese rice and shreds of green lettuce and two slices of tomato. I cannot wait to try it.
The white flesh of the cod breaks apart so easily. It’s cooked to perfection. The thick flesh pieces are pure white and glistening moist. And then I take my first mouthful and my face just scrunches up and screams! This fish is literally the saltiest tasting thing, other than drinking a whole lot of seawater while surfing, I have ever had. I try again, just in case my taste buds were reading salt levels incorrectly. Nope. I try but I just can’t put another piece of what tastes like pure salt in my mouth. My high expectations crash and I resort to eating the fluffy Portuguese rice along with the plain yet healthy green salad. I look over and Charlie feels the same. And so does Steve. But Steve asks for some mayonnaise and pours some onto his plate and takes a piece of cod with a dollop of mayo. But I can’t do it and neither can Charlie. Glad the other girls enjoyed their meals as we look over to the counter and eye off the Pasteis de Nata. It’s a must have after a foodie set back like this.
I thought I may as well try one of the little cups of coffee that all Portuguese seem to enjoy any part of the day. An expresso in a tiny little cup arrives to the table with a packet of sugar and a large stainless steel canister shaker. I take a whiff of the top of the canister and it’s cinnamon. Hmmm. Interesting. Again it’s not my preferred style of coffee but I try it anyway but my face scrunches and screams again from its extraordinarily bitter taste.
We decide to leave exploring St Jorge’s Castle and its lookout for another day. The girls want to have a wander in Lisbon on their own and so do Steve and I. We meander our way down the hills that is quintessential Lisbon taking steps and narrow walkways until we come out to Rossio Square which we are more familiar with from our arrival day.
We have decided to give the four girls some pocket travel money each week so they can do as they like with it. 15 euros each for Charlie and Ash and 10 euros each for Billie and Dacey. Steve hands over the notes and we arrange to meet them back at the information stand at Rossio Square at 5pm. We have 1.5 hours to explore on our own.
We wave each other off, as Steve and I head down one of Lisbon’s most prominent streets – Rua Augusta. It’s an extra wide street lined with cafes, shops, mosaic pavement, and plenty of street artists. The centre of the street is dedicated to a long series of outdoor tables and chairs for guests to sit at and enjoy their food. The street has been closed to traffic since the 80s and it’s great to let the eyes wander without having to worry about getting hit by cars, trams, motorbikes, buses or zero sounding tuk tuk vehicles. We saw bottles of port in a shop window with a sale price sticker on them for 950 euros!
At the very end of the road is a magnificent archway spanning the width of the Rua Augusta. It’s the Triumph Arc and just beyond that the Praca do Comercio (Commerce Square) which is one of the largest squares in all of Europe at 36,000m squared. This square was used previously as the noble entranceway to the city of Lisbon used by Kings and Emperors. However, in 1755, the Great Lisbon Earthquake obliterated the place until it was reconstructed. We feel very out in the open at this massive square. It must be how a bird feels when and if it’s let out of its cage. That feeling of expansiveness and openness after navigating narrow laneways and steps.
We continue on walking towards the ancient district of Alfama – traditionally the poorest region of the capital and originally outside the walls of the city where sailors would dock and the workers of the area would live in quite grim conditions. We stumble into its alleyways through pure curiosity and interesting leading streets. The look and feel of some of these streets are too good to refuse and the exploring of them is a must as we start to enjoy the feeling of being lost in this character filled district. Knowing the general direction, we succumbed to walking into the character-filled lure of the cute alleyways with colourful decorations overhead. It’s another world. The lanes and alleyways of Alfama are exquisite and we are told be a lovely woman at a shop selling homemade Sangria for the month of June there’s a Cultural Festival of food and drink celebrating the Saints and the simple fact of being Portuguese. She shares her homemade recipe for Sangria – half port wine and half soda, golden sugar and large chunks of fruit – orange, pear, apple, strawberries.
After walking some more, Steve and I stop off at a quaint café and sit down at a small table and tiny stool chairs next to an Italian couple who we discover are in Portugal celebrating her 40th birthday. We order a vinho branca (white wine) and a cerveja (beer) and enjoy sitting there without having to organise a table for six and watch the foot traffic pass us by the narrow laneway. It’s always interesting observing the locals in their own neighbourhood and notice how they interact and communicate with each other and tourists. My attention is taken by an elderly couple of women who stand on the other side of the laneway and have their conversation out on the street while tourists go by. I imagine what change they have been privy to seeing and experiencing here in Portugal. I would just love to interview these women as they look like dear old friends.
A man delivers my vinho branco in a half litre pottery jug and a matching cup. I’m surprised as I’ve never had a wine in a pottery cup before and my first taste has a slight fizziness to it. Steve reminds me that it is fairly cheap drinks here as my half litre jug cost just 3 euros which may account for the fizziness. Today my luck is out with food and now drink – 1st with the codfish, 2nd the expresso and 3rd the wine. It goes in threes so at least that’s over! Confidently I order a white Sangria next which tastes much better in the pottery cup.
We catch up with the kids exploring shops in Lisbon via Messenger app and delay our meeting up for another half an hour. We call them back telling them they would love it here in Alfama and they should meet us. The beauty about technology these day is that I send the girls our live location through Messenger and they find us. The Italian couple have left and low and behold we have a spare table to the left and the right of us! They sit and order a soft drink and some light food before we head back along the port promenade to catch our train back to Parede.
We catch the train back to Carcavelos Station. Luckily we arrive at the platform just as the train is pulling in, so we are amongst the first to get seats. The train becomes standing room only in a matter of minutes. It’s been a massive day of sightseeing in Lisbon – a total of 11 hours from start to finish and door to door! No wonder we are all feeling so pooped.
But not for the kids. They’re keen to find a supermarket that is open this late on a Saturday night – which they Google and find one – to buy some snacks to enjoy while watching an episode or two of Modern Family. Charlie, Ash and Dacey go out searching for the supermarket and return with chocolate chip cookies and blocks of dark chocolate. We enjoy the rest of our evening with our feet up sitting on the couch in our Airbnb apartment watching three episodes of Modern Family and enjoy comfort food with a cup of chamomile tea.
PS I love the tiled walls of the Portuguese buildings. They’re called Azulejo ceramic tiles and are part of the Portuguese architecture. So many different colours and patterns. Here’s a small collection.