Before writing about Lisbon, a few digressions about getting back into international travel. This is our first overseas trip in about 30 months. We had been about a month ahead of COVID on our last trip … Australia and New Zealand had begun to restrict visitors from Southeast Asia, and Hawaii did the same as we crossed back across the Pacific on our way home. Finally, Vail, Colorado, our last stop, closed down completely a week after our visit. In the months since, we avoided overseas travel and restricted ourselves to winter driving escapes, primarily to our Western deserts.
Armed with vaccinations and a better understanding of how to live with COVID, we got back on the world travel saddle and headed to Europe.
Lisbon was not our primary destination. But while researching airline fares to Ireland, I noticed a couple carriers with decent rates who offered free stopovers in their primary hubs. We had already visited Reykjavik, so we flew on Portugal’s national airline (TAP) and stopped over in Lisbon. We were a bit out of practice, and had gotten in the habit of driving ourselves, so the hassles of going through preflight screenings, boarding, and flying, seemed more stressful. But actually, everything went fine … Our flight was on time and customs in Portugal was a snap.
I didn’t know a lot about Portugal, other than its Roman and Moorish occupation followed by its history of naval explorations and colonization. I knew that Portugal’s early explorers opened up sea trading around Africa to India and China. I knew that Magellan was one of the first to pilot a ship around the world and had established a route around Cape Horn. And I knew that Portugal had colonized Brazil and introduced China and Japan to European trade. . They had been a great naval power in the 16th century. I also knew that all my friends loved their visits to Portugal.
This is Portugal’s Monument to the Discoveries. Built initially for the 1940 World Exposition, it was rebuilt in the 1960s with more durable stone. Henry the Navigator is at the helm, followed by significant characters in Portuguese overseas expansion…32 in all.
The locals seemed to put more credence into the Exposition and the development of the shoreline, but I thought it was a great testament to the daring and skill of their early explorers. We ascended to the top for a great view of the river and city.
Which brings me to one of my continuous thoughts while exploring Lisbon… I found it comparable in many ways to San Francisco. The cities are roughly the same size, about 600,000 citizens. They both have a Golden Gate suspension bridge ( above ). The cities are both quite hilly and arduous to walk. They both have cute cable cars / trolleys. The Lisbon bread, while not sourdough, is a treat. Both benefit from outstanding local vineyards. And both are full of international tourists.
We spent our first hour taking a local tour in a Tuk Tuk.
This was not your Indian Tuk Tuk … It was completely electric and came with a local guide who spoke five languages. He motored us up windy, cobblestone alleys that took the place of real roads. We wizzed by Cathedrals, Roman ruins, and government buildings. He then dropped us off at the riverside so we could see the the monument to Portuguese Explorers and the Belem Tower.
The Belem Tower was built in the 16 Century, during Portugal’s Renaissance… It was the point of embarkation and disembarkation for the Portuguese explorers of that era who charted the African coast, colonized South America and found the way around Cape Horn. It is a symbol of Portugal’s “Age of Discovery.”
Lisbon sits along a river outlet that affords a smooth harbor from the more inconsistent currents of the Atlantic Ocean. We walked and bused toward the open ocean to the west, and worked our way through squares on the way back to the train station where our day started.
Along the way, we stopped at one of the numerous outdoor dining venues on streets that have been closed off to auto traffic. The local beers are very good, and those drinking the wines had no complaints
DAY TWO started with another train ride into the City.
At the top of the pic above is the Castelo de Sao Jorge … The castle dates to the mid-11th century. It was built by the Moors, Arab invaders from Africa and the Middle East, as their primary citadel. Prior to the Moors, this hilltop was the site of fortifications by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. The Moors were defeated in 1147 by Crusader armies, and the fort was utilized by various Germanic tribes and both Spanish and Portuguese rulers. Over time, the castle walls fell into disrepair as it lost strategic importance. A couple severe earthquakes also helped reduce most of the walls to rubble. But in the mid 1900s, Portugal decided to renovate this landmark and treat it as a dominant part of Portugal’s heritage.
Mrs Bear and I decided to make the hike up to the fort, and its touring, as our primary focus of our second day in Lisbon. Needless to say, it is a trek to hike up the cobblestones to the grounds.
The Castle was actually more like a citadel. The fortifications were massive and there was little evidence of living quarters on the grounds. During its heyday, the fort protected and served clusters of homes below on the hill. These dwellings were lost in major earthquakes and have been replaced by high rise apartments … Some of which you can see in the pictures above.
The Portuguese people have a nice sense of style. They dress up and subtlety show themselves off. The buildings are finished in lovely pastels and clay tile roofs. Tiled walls are a really big thing here. I also noticed an almost complete absence of obese people here. When I asked if my observation was correct, our Tuk Tuk guide agreed and stated that the locals stay away from junk food. Whatever it is, I liked the food, and I liked the results. The only thing I had trouble with was staying up until the normal dinner hours of 8:00 – 10:00 PM. We usually opened the cafes at 7:00.
On our way out, we noticed a sign for the Castle of Saint George Church. I was told that nearly every church in Lisbon is Catholic … That Portugal is among the most Catholic nations in the world. We entered the sanctuary…
Then we then viewed a sign for the church’s viewing area … For a donation, we received a drink of our choice and the opportunity to climb 60 or so steps to the bells. I have to admit that it was the first time I was given a glass of wine in church, and the views were second only to the setting and the company.
We walked back down the steps to another mid-afternoon tapas sampler, and headed out of the city. We loved Lisbon and can see making Portugal a primary destination someday soon.