It’s pretty cool how quickly the trains run in Portugal. We caught an IC (Inter-City) train from Porto and arrived just some 3 hours later in the capital – Lisbon.
The train station here is rather photogenic. While we arrived at the top level, there are about 4 more below us.
But, one of the best parts of the train station is probably its bookstore. Yep, open every day, this is a fun spot in which to purchase books. Cheers to literacy, Lisbon!
Much like Porto, Lisbon is known for its brightly colored buildings. Sitting high above them is the Castle of Saint George. Originally built by the Romans around 48 BCE, the main structure is a reconstructed Moorish fortress that was severely damaged in an 18th-century earthquake.
Still, there exist many hidden gems throughout the city. Once a type of council house on the banks of the river, this beautiful building was quite lovely to espy.
Somewhat akin to Spanish Flamenco, Portuguese Fado is a musical genre that has become something of a national treasure. Dating as far back as the early 19th-century (and probably before), it is best known for its dramatic lamentations both in lyrics and tunes. Mostly, Fado is full of maritime references and a sense of loss concerning seafaring men and the women and families they leave behind.
Although we did not attend a Fado concert (as most in Lisbon are very touristy), we walked through the Old Town and along much of the riverway. Specifically, the Comércio Plaza is a heart of maritime trade and the site where we did attend a concert.
We happened upon this bandstand in the plaza where an orchestra was warming up for a public concert.
Of all things, they performed John Williams’ Star Wars! (Talk about a little taste of home.) Apparently, public concerts are staged throughout the capital during the month of June. As we were unaware of this, it was a welcomed surprise and we stayed for most of the free concert. OK – not Fado, but we enjoyed it all the same.
Next up was a quick sampling of some Lisbon beers at The Beer Station. While very tourist-heavy, this is a nice spot that does trio samplers of local craft beer for 5€ a pop. No, they’re not the best in the world, but Lisbon beers are certainly coming into their own as tasty treats.
Our thirst satiated, next on the list was a visit to this mountaintop treasure. We had read about the National Pantheon and decided to trek out to it as much for its views as for the building itself.
Housed inside of a converted 17th-century church, the Baroque interior is quite dramatic in its vaulted openness. Moreover, there was a certain secular holiness to the shrine and we knew that, while those interred within would not matter as much to foreigners, it was an important place to the people of Portugal.
Yes, there were many of the dead presidents of the Portuguese Republic and a handful of authors, poets, and discoverers, but given equal standing were a few cultural icons like this soccer player. Yes, we understand that soccer is important, but Mikey equated it to burying Babe Ruth alongside the American Founding Fathers. (It just seemed a bit weird!)
Strangeness aside, looking up from the center of the main altar, we captured this amazing view of the dome’s interior. Oh, and note the railing up there.
Yep, included in admission is the chance to climb up to it and view the interior from the dome level. Trust us on this – the railing is frighteningly thin and does not seem too sturdy!
Much less queasy was the view from on top of the roof. This dome was pretty intense and one can walk around it and view much of the surrounding buildings from quite a high perch.
Perhaps more solid feeling in its construction is the 12th-century Cathedral of Lisbon. Known as the Sé and built in the Romanesque style, its walls are much thicker and smaller arched windows provide any exterior sources of light.
Of course, this beautiful stained glass rose window is a main focal point of the cathedral.
The structure is also well known for its beautiful vaulted ceilings and their brightly colored frescoes which shine above the main altar.
A pair of lovely Baroque organs flank the same altar and provide rich music during services.
The Baroque-styled baptismal chapel dates from the 17th-century and simply exudes the style most have come to associate with typical Lisbon tile-art.
These tiles were painted by master craftsmen some 350 years ago and still hold their original beauty and brightness.
Just around the corner is the 12th-century Church of Saint Anthony of Padua which was built over his birthplace. Known locally as the “Love Saint,” it is complete with a flowered exterior wall, museum, and all the trappings of a holy site made even more famous with the visit by Pope John Paul II in 1982.
Nearby is the 13th-century Church of São Domingos. While its exterior is quite ordinary, it was once the largest church in Lisbon.
It is most notable for its seemingly rough-hewn interior and has been nearly destroyed three times (by a 16th and 18th-century earthquake and a ghastly 20th century fire).
After all that, it is still a beautiful church which houses many historic and contemporary altarpieces.
Specifically, this pieta was very moving and is part of an altar to the Virgin Mary.
Oddly, we noticed this very large marker commemorating the 16th-century Jewish massacre during which some 2000 Jews were killed. Why – you might ask? Well, it turns out that this church was the seat of the Portuguese Inquisition. Given the Spanish Church’s public omission concerning many of their own atrocities, it was quite bizarre to see such open admittance of past wrongdoing. Yes, it took 500 years, but kudos, Lisbon.
Another landmark is located in the same plaza. Much less gruesome is the tiny hole-in-the-wall bar called Ginjinha Espinheira.
Founded in 1840, this is the oldest Ginja bar and probably the site where the cherry liquor originated. Made by infusing sour cherries with aguardiente, sugar, cinnamon, and other spices, it is a sweet shot that was once given to adults and children alike to cure their medical maladies. Now, it is more of a tourist spot where most take a 1.20€ shot and stagger away.
Equally on the tourist radar is Lisbon’s Museum of Beer. Serving up tasty snacks and national brands of beer from all over the Portuguese-speaking world, this restaurant is kind of fun but is mostly a chance to overpay for Brazilian-style Budweiser.
Seeking a more authentic watering hole, we boarded a regional train and headed to a brewery on the outskirts of the city. Yep, this was our lonely walking path from the train to the brewery and we definitely had a few second thoughts along the way!
Still, with about a dozen taps, Quimera Brewpub serves up quite a lot of house-made brews ranging from ales to sours and even some nice porters.
We tried a few in their garden area and were rather impressed with the cider.
Yes, there were quite a lot of beers to choose from, but we only had time to get halfway through their lineup before we had to get back to Lisbon proper. Let’s face it – do you really want to walk through that neighborhood after a major tasting?!
Speaking of tasting, we happened upon this really quaint craft beer bar the next day.
Still, while many Portuguese bars offer “craft beer,” few have a very local lineup. Crafty Corner was an exception. When Mikey asked the bartender if any of their selection was local, he replied that all twelve beers on tap were from Lisbon. Ergo, this was our “all-inclusive” tasting flight!
Tastings aside, much of our time in Lisbon was spent walking around and exploring the sights of the city. Sipping coffee and relaxing in beautiful plazas like this was more the norm than bar-hopping.
Although not as good as the coffee in Spain, we had many lattes and spent a good amount of time just reading.
There were also side trips to some fun local places and we got to check out a lot of graffiti-laden spots like this underground passageway.
Even a simple walk along the waterfront lended this unexpected and enjoyable moment.
Lisbon is truly a truly wonderful place to take in the sights and just enjoy what the city has to offer.
Yes, we have walked across Spain from the southern Atlantic to the northern coast, but were now more interested in resting up an enjoying a leisurely afternoon just reflecting on the beauty that surrounded us.
Yet, at the end, all good things must come to that. At long last, we wound up at the Lisbon airport and spent our last 5€ coins on a coffee and doughnut.
Then, it was off to the tarmac to board our flight back to the US. (Oddly, we had to take a 10-minute bus ride away from the terminal and walk up some steps – maybe quarantine?)
At any rate, it’s now back to Atlanta to see Mikey’s parents, sister, and brother in law for a few nights at the family’s mountain cabin. Yeah, we’re probably prolonging the eventual return to normalcy, but this will be a good chance to relax a bit more and spend time with the family. So, the journey continues…See you on the next Camino?