Main Language Spoken: Portuguese
Lisbon (Lisboa) , the city of 7 hills is the capital of Portugal. River Tagus (pronounced Tagoosh) flowing through it, runs into the Atlantic Ocean and is the biggest river in the Iberian Peninsula.
Lisbon enjoyed a strategic location for two reasons – being right on the estuary of River Tagus it was easy for ships to sail in and out and secondly because of its geographic proximity to Europe, Africa and Americas, it became an important seaport for trade. Lisbon flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries in the Age of Discoveries and ascended to the status of a world power during this time through trade and colonisation. In 1755 the Lisbon earthquake destroyed most of Lisbon and the Peninsular Wars in 1807 sent Portugal into complete anarchy. The downfall of this great empire began.
l first visited the Monument of Discoveries, which celebrates the Age of Discoveries. The navigation boats used during that period were called ‘Caravels’ and this Monument is shaped like one. King Henry is at the front holding a ship with 34 historically important people following him like Vasco de Gama, the first European to discover India and Ferdinand Magellan, the first to circle the world. The only lady in this monument is Queen Felipa, mother of Henry the navigator. King Henry was responsible for most of the Portuguese discoveries and was better known as Prince Henry the Navigator. There is also the Belem Tower close by which was built as a defence system on the mouth of Tagus with some other structures. It was also the starting point for many voyages.
Baixa (pronounced Baisha) is the historical Old Town of Lisbon. It was fully destroyed by the earthquake and was rebuilt completely with the first types of earthquake proof material. Baixa has lots of shops, restaurants and the streets were lined with vendors selling roasted Kastanhas (chestnuts). It looked a bit run-down or neglected . While we were walking down streets restaurant owners tried to persuade us to come to them by showing their menus! Praca de Commercio is the main square. The arch in Praca De Commercio was inaugurated on centenary of the devastating earthquake. Some elevators you see in Baixa are unique because they were made to take people not up and down buildings, but up and down streets!! We went to two of these elevators – Santa Justa and Gloria. These kind of elevators were built in the 19th century and are still operational. The Gloria elevator is technically a funicular but it’s called an elevator. From the viewing balcony on top of the Santa Justa Elevator you can see a lovely landscape of Lisbon dotted with red roofed buildings.
Santo Amaro Docks used to be a warehouse and a place for ships to dock and has now been converted into lively restaurants and is a lovely hang out place because there’s always the 25 de Abril suspension bridge over you, the sparkling blue River Tagus and the statue of the Christ De Redeemer on a hill overlooking the docks.
Tram number 28, is a quaint yellow tram that goes up and down the steep, winding and narrow lanes of old Lisbon, which the new trams can’t navigate as they are too long. It was quite an experience to go in the rattling tram as it dates from the 1930s and is exactly the same as it was back then. All the old trams like Tram 28 are called Remodelado trams. We went on tram 28 because it goes through the most beautiful districts of Lisbon.
Fado Music, the traditional music of Lisbon, is melancholous because it was made by the ladies whose husbands have gone out on voyages, so the wives didn’t know when their husbands will come, if they ever do. Many clubs hold Fado music performances to keep the tradition alive.
Sintra is a must visit town that is bustling with tourists and it is an easy 1 hour train ride from Lisbon. There are loads of tourist attractions in the town of Sintra but the Pena Palace is definitely the highlight. We went up to the Pena Palace in a bus as it is made on a hill. You can also trek up to the palace but we preferred the bus as we had my little brother with us. The Sintra Pena Palace is a gorgeous palace and the first thing that strikes you is the colourful facade.
The Triton, half man half fish figure is on the top of the main entrance. Don Fernando II built this palace. The palace has turrets that we were allowed to go on and that was a fun experience because I pretended I was a knight battling the enemy down below. The most panoramic view was from the Queen’s terrace. The inside wasn’t as extraordinary as the outside though.
After Lisbon we visited Porto, the second biggest city in Portugal is on the banks of river Duoro.
Porto is renowned for its port wine. The wine is stored in the wine cellars in Porto. Most of these wine cellars offer you tours and we toured one of wine cellars offering English tours. Inside the cellar was dark and cold because these conditions are required for the wine to mature. The tour was very informative and the coolest part for me was to learn about their vintage wines which are more than a 100 years old!! Also, in the olden days oxen were used to carry wine barrels in carts. A heavy load was put on their head so that they couldn’t lift their heads – if they did the cart would tilt and the wine barrels would roll over. Before the advent of the railways, Rabelo boats were the fastest and most efficient means of transports for the wine barrels from the Duoro valley to Porto where all the cellars were. These boats had oars specially designed to navigate the shallow, fast moving waters of the river. Though the boats are no longer in use, you can still see them docked on the side – a picture postcard setting for most magazines featuring Porto . These boats are used only on one day in a year, on St. John’s day, 24th June for a race. At the end of the tour I was sure tempted to taste some wine but obviously wasn’t allowed.
Livraria Lello, the most beautiful bookshop I have ever seen, inspired JK Rowling to conceptualise the Hogwarts library in a similar way. The bookshop is a must for all Harry Potter fans. They have a trolley with Harry’s luggage and broomstick which you can pretend to drive straight into platform nine and three quarters through the wall.
With so much to see and do and extremely kind locals, I never got bored in Portugal.