Losing heart and mind to Lisbon
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Losing heart and mind to Lisbon

After a spell in the international spotlight while hosting the Champions League final, Lisbon casts its charms on Mark Strijbosch during his minibreak.

Getting lost in Lisbon was the best idea and my feet still ache from all the improvised sightseeing walks around this great city.

Determined to make the best of my three-day stay, I picked a central location in the old part of town, the charming Bairro Alto, famed for its incredible wine bars and high viewpoints.

My accommodation was sorted online through Airbnb and in all my years travelling I recommend this website the most, due to its ease of use and ratings system.

Beds can be found at any price all over Europe and my double room was perfect for two nights, staying 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 that create what must be Europe’s biggest car roller coaster.

The cobbled roads are so steep that charming old trams were installed to take people up and downhill: kids can also enjoy sliding down the tracks in the rain. Lisbon owes most of its charm to the Moors, whose rule helped the city flourish in the early 700s. Their influence can still be seen in its architecture and street layout, with narrow streets separated by tall buildings to help keep out the blistering heat.

Lisbon has tiny beauty spots dotted around that provide unique viewpoints, particularly at sunset

Many of the city’s fascinating buildings are covered with a façade of beautifully patterned tiles, with the bottom layer often stolen by thieves who have seen decent profits for their troubles.

Tiles in Lisbon are a sign of culture and there are thousands of different patterns.

Two young entrepreneurs recently opened a shop with the aim of dealing in tiles that are no longer in production. Their grandfather collected tiles for 40 years and filled a warehouse full of old treasures. Their aim is to continue collecting and selling tiles as for them it symbolises culture.

I was invited in for a sneak preview of the shop called Cortico & Netos and I cannot wait to return for the final product after receiving a sample for my own kitchen.

Elaborately designed pavements lead the way around and I wish I had my head camera to document all the different patterns and to find my way home afterwards.

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 flea market selling everything you could want, including the closest thing to Maltese bread I have ever tasted – coincidentally eaten as a huge flag bearing the Maltese cross flapped in the background.

Food was very cheap and I followed the general rule of thumb: if the place is packed with locals, the food and service will be affordable and good – this little one called a Cantina did not disappoint in either aspect.

Travelling to Lisbon during June is a must as, like in the Maltese summer, timing is everything.

Between May and June, Lisboans celebrate Fiestas de Lisboa – a series of street parties all over town celebrating the season of the sardines – the local pride.

This coastal city boasts the largest sardines in the world and celebrates this by combining all the arts as local musicians are supported by graphic designers and artists who have to design different sardine templates to be 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 June 13 and St John the following week, together with St Peter.

A good diet is essential and most residents seem happy enough to boast that they know more than 100 ways to cook cod, one of this city’s main food sources.

Bacalhau – dried and salted cod – is found anywhere there. However, I would avoid the promenade and dive inwards because, as in any city, the cheaper, better restaurants are away from the tourist hubs.

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 those city trams, which can be found anywhere.

Look up while walking and you will find a criss-cross of electricity lines linking trams up. Climbing aboard one will take you back through the decades. The 1950s-designed cabins are rather similar to old Maltese buses, with wooden lining across the sides and a grumpy driver, ensuring the scene is set for a brilliant cruise around the city.

Just watch out as local children love to hitch a free ride, swooping for handbags along the way. You will soon learn that there is no rush in Lisbon and this city certainly moves at its own pace.

Leaving the comfort of my tram, I soon came across the famous Elevador de Santa Justa, deciding it was time to face my fear of heights.

This lift, built in 1902, serves one purpose – to offer you a bird’s eye view of the city. It does not disappoint.

The elevator carries scores of people daily and after paying €5, you are ushered to a set of gates and moved into the cabin.

This rickety cage ride is not for the faint-hearted and it is not over when you exit: a spiralling metal flight of steps takes you even higher up to the breathtaking, panoramic views of 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 El Mercado da Ribeira, another one of Lisbon’s charming markets.

The first thing that will grab your attention is the endlessly winding, curvy roads that create what must beEurope’s biggest car roller coaster

This food court seemed to have no end and served all types of typical Portuguese dishes, from black chorizo to all the shellfish under the sun – or the stars – as day slowly faded to night. Lisbon has tiny beauty spots dotted around that provide unique viewpoints, particularly at sunset.

People congregate to relax and play music and these spaces offer a creative space for artists to try something new.

This city breathes creativity and people enjoy creative freedom to express their talents.

Little art shops have begun popping up and promoting Portuguese culture and it is not worth going to a souvenir shop to pick up your memorabilia as these artisan vendors have far better prices for a unique product.

The tall buildings and narrow roads provided ideal shade for achy legs the following day. However, my desire for the heat helped me find a sun-trap terrace, allowing me to perch on top of a busy street, watching life go by as I sipped on a Café Solo and flicked through a newspaper.

Just as the Fiestas de Lisboa begin drawing to an end, another event kicked off in sister country Brazil – the World Cup is on everyone’s mind now, and supporters are always ready to party those hot summer nights away.

If that is too far to travel, a host of live music festivals with top bands are being held in Lisbon this summer, making Portugal’s capital the place to be.

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