Since international travel is still restricted and limited, I am inviting you for a virtual journey that is taking us through a small country with an area of thirty-five thousand square miles (ranking only 109th in the world) with a population of ten million that yet once dominated the world and left an enormous footprint in the history of mankind. It also left hundreds of millions worldwide as native speakers sharing the same language they speak. In this ancient country one can also visit the oldest bookstore in the world and one of the oldest universities on the European continent. It is also the birthplace of “Fado”, its coastline is one of the world's top surf spots and no other country produces more corks than them. BEM VINDO A PORTUGAL!
I traveled this charming land thoroughly almost exactly a year ago and now I am sharing some of my photos and the wonderful time we had. Yeah, I know you might say the oldest European country is Italy (Roman Empire) or Greece but if you look at it as: what country has maintained its firm borders for the longest time, it is making Portugal one of the most identifiable, oldest countries in the world – its borders were defined in 1139 CE, meaning it is officially the oldest nation in Europe and its capital city is known to be much older than Rome for example. Portugal’s extremely rich history can be witnessed in the streets of Lisbon and Porto where we are about to walk a bit. Ready and eager to join me? Then let us get stated, shall we.
We arrived in the capital city in the last minutes of the pre-Covid world and after settling down in our cozy hotel at the corner of the elegant shopping avenue Avenida da Liberdade and the important intersection, Marquis of Pombal Square, we started strolling in one of the most expensive shopping streets of Europe towards the Old Quarter and discussed the rich history of the Portuguese who once conquered half of the world some five hundred years ago. The chit-chat about it is a relatively easy task since the tree lined avenue is dotted with many statues and memorials including the Monument to the Heroes of the Great War, a tribute to the 50,000 Portuguese soldiers who fought in World War I. Since Portugal and England have the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world signed in 1373 – both countries entered wars to defend the other. One of the most notable examples is Portugal entering World War I. This mile or so long and three hundred feet wide boulevard decorated with abstractly patterned cobblestone pavement was built in the 19th century in the style of the Champs-Elysees and it is not just the main avenue of Lisbon but also the site of the city's grander hotels and designer shops.
As we are wandering towards the Tagus River, we reach the Bairro Alto and the Chiado the old and lovely neighborhood of Lisbon. You bump into tourists from all over the world who walk the steep cobbled streets of this bohemian district just like you. Once here, why not ride a funicular, visit lavish churches, take in the centuries-old buildings, and stop for a drink, snack, or lunch in one of the bars, cafés or traditional restaurants with some Fado music filling the air. Talking about snacks what we liked the most: roast chestnuts almost a size of an egg as a street food basically everywhere we just could not stop having more. OMG! The sweet smell is still circulating in my nose as is the laughter and noise of this lively city keeps echoing in my ears.
From my point of view the best ways to discover a town are on foot or using overground public transport. Some cities in Europe have scenic tram lines like Line 2 in Budapest or Line 28 in Lisbon. The creaking yellow vintage tram itself is a moving museum and it is the second-best way to get around the city. Purchase a six-euro day card for the tram and allow yourself to ride all over the capital for an entire day. 'Elétrico 28' runs from the Martim Moniz square to the Prazeres district; the wooden tram ride takes an hour to negotiate the many curves in the narrow streets with a gradient of more than ten percent in some cases.
Along the way the tram passes numerous attractions, such as the Castelo de São Jorge, perched on the highest hill of Lisbon with fabulous views of the Alfama district and the azure blue Tagus River. The castle is a must because of the view you can enjoy from the hill where it sits and the rich history you can study inside for a few Euros only.
After the visit you can walk or descend down with our ancient tram through Alfama’s medieval streets to the old district of Baixa, passing by the Sé Cathedral, another must-see attraction that is worth a stop if you have the time. The ride then continues through the charming run-down Bairro Alto to the artistic neighborhood of Chiado and concludes at Campo Ourique, its final stop. When taking this fabulous tram or when you are wandering around, you can admire the world-famous and typical tiles, called azulejos, decorating everything from walls of churches and monasteries, to palaces, ordinary houses, park seats, fountains, shops, and train stations. They are all over the place and everywhere in Portugal!
The pre-Covid world’s fresh yet somehow aromatic, buzzing yet calm and sunny air is filling my small study where I am typing my words of the unspeakable beauty and charm of Lisbon. I can still taste the fish dinner in my mouth and the cheap but excellent Vinho Verde that gave a perfect touch to it. The Vinho Verde was so superb that we kept drinking it in our hotel room – what happened that evening I cannot recall, I guess we drank too much of it.
Can you all still and again imagine traveling, dining out, listening to music during your night walk without a mask in places like Lisbon? I hope, we all can get back to the good old days and spend our time and money wisely somewhere in the world because travel is the best educator, and it is one of the greatest funs you can have in your life.
A few more sites and activities worth a try once you are in Lisbon: Belém Tower, a 16th-century fortification that served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. It is often portrayed as a symbol of Europe's Age of Discoveries. Talking about discoveries, another site from the era: Mosteiro dos Jerónimos; the 16th-century monastery is one of the great landmarks of Portugal and Vasco da Gama's tomb lies just inside! Elevador de Santa Justa is an antique elevator in the city center with city great views and long waiting times and lines. The Parque das Nações with Vasco de Gama Bridge (one of the longest in Europe), Vasco de Gama Tower and the Oceanarium also worth a visit if you have enough time.
Lisbon – just like the other European cities – has something to offer to everyone no matter what your main interest is. If you are a gourmand, you will find all sorts of restaurants with mouthwatering dishes. If you like wandering the streets or do sightseeing, you can enjoy it all day long. If you like shopping and have the right card, Lisbon is home to a large concentration of international luxury brands in Europe, including brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Christian Dior, Chanel, Versace, Balmain, Gucci, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, Christian Louboutin, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Tod's, Burberry. And if you like going to museums, you will find plenty of them here. Lisbon is doable in two days (if you do not visit museums) but one can easily and meaningfully spend a week here, as well. Beside of the museums the countryside, the Tagus and the Pacific Ocean offers a lot to see and a lot to do but that is another tour, another time. Instead I am inviting you to visit Porto the second largest Portuguese city with me next time.
To be continued soon; stay healthy and stay tuned.