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I went to Lisbon impressed by Wim Wenders’ film Lisbon Story. The blue-yellow city situated on the hills and the red Ponte 25 de Abril bridge over the Tagus river appeared from the plane’s window exactly like in the movie.
I went straight from the airport to Pensão Estrela d´Ouro which turned out to be an apartment in an old tenement house in the Barrio Alto. And my landlady was a grandmother dressed a floral apron. When I was oppening the wooden shutters, my room started to be filled with life which was all day and night on the small Largo Trindade Coelho square. There was also the cat on a dutty sitting down in the bookstore’s window.
On the steps
All the time I ran down the steps street, stopped for a bica coffee (very strong espresso) on the way, and the Pastéis de Nata – the famous custard tarts. A tiny street led from Barrio Alto (Upper Town) – a district full of restaurants through Chiado filled by oldest bookstores and fashionable shops to Baixa (Lower Town) – the Centre bustling during the day, with spacious squares: Praça do Comércio, just above Tag, Praça do Rossio or Praça dos Restauradores.
Alfama – the oldest part of Lisbon
After two minutes from there I got to Alfama builts on steep rocks. The streets of Alfama are basically stairs. Muslims designed many buildings here. But this most impressive part of the city was heavily damaged by an earthquake 255 years ago (1775).
Today Alfama is still the soul of Lisbon. Pastelarias are even more ordinary here, crowded and buzzing with local chats. In Alfama you can eat the cheapest and the “most” in Portuguese. Walking through the narrow streets, I meet an elderly woman with a wicker basket on her head, who is pacing the cobbled street. Kids running after the ball, a group of locals standing on the corner, and one artist paints a fresco on the door of Taberna A Baiuca. Above all, blue sky and the laundry hanging between the windows. You can observe the wide Tagus river from above, sit on the square by wall decorated of azulejo under a pink flowery tree. The ubiquitous voice of yellow tram squeezing everywhere.
Wandering through Alfama, I came across the Fado Museum. There in the background of the greatest fadista Amália Rodrigues‘ voice I admired photos, a collection of guitars. In the evening, when I return to my apartment, I climb the stairs again between colourful restaurants. One of them is called Buenos Aires. There are tables on the stairs so I have to squeeze through them. Suddenly I can hear the melancholic FADO which an elderly Portuguese man sang living one bar. The concerts of Fado are quite popular in some restauransts, but also you can listen it on the street, spontaneously.
Lisbon in Bairro Alto is bustling with life until morning, even kids play football at night in the squares. So, I have the impression, also watching my grandmother from the guesthouse, that this place and its inhabitants do not sleep at all.
Parque das Nações
On the second day at the Baixa Chiado station, I get on the metro and go to the North east side of Tag, where is situated Parque das Nações (Park of Nations). This is a complex with futuristic buildings (created for Expo ’98). There is also Oceanário de Lisboa (the largest aquarium in Europe) where I drop in with pleasure.
A modern park complex is a favourite place for weekend walks of Lisboners. You can ride over the park by cable railway, and contemplating the extensive Tagus and see the longest in Europe Vasco da Gama Bridge in the distance. The are striped stone benches, beautiful palm trees, pink flower bushes, and an interesting fountain also striped.
I go back to the Centre by metro and someone asks me for directions, so and I am glad be like a local.
Trams, metro or elevators
Lisbon is a magical, old and modern place at the same time. You can ride here on vintage trams (os eléctricos or Americanos, because the same kind of tram go through San Francisc in California) with wooden benches inside and windows always open. Someone will jump on the run into the tram. Lisbon’s trams often climb uphill, and Calçada da São Francisco has the steepest tram climb in the world.
You can also go by modern trams with air conditioning. There is an old elevator between Baixa and Bairro Alto – Elevador de Santa Justa, today mainly for tourists (a very similar elevator can also be found in Salvador, Brazil). From the observation deck above the baskets of oranges hanging on the railings, there is a picture of the city center. There are 3 more funiculars in Lisbon that go up and down narrow steep streets: Elevador da Bica (also known as Ascensor da Bica) – Elevador da Gloria – going from Praça dos Restauradores do Bairro Alto and Elevador do Lavra – the oldest and steepest.
Lisbon is a city of small narrow streets, stairs, but also wide green alleys like Avenida da Liberdade, escapades, numerous parks, wide squares and buildings with wooden shutters decorated on the facades with a simple azulejo. In a small shop I meet an immigrant from São Paulo and learns that many Brazilians have settled in Lisbon. I buy the bronze beads that the woman chose for me and continue walking in Baxia, where I come across a Lisbon poet, Fernando Pessoa, whose portrait has been painted on the wall of a tenement house. The most famous statue of the poet stands in front of the popular Café a Brasileira, where the poet also visited.
On the other side
The best view of the Lisbon is from the other side of the Tag. So let’s take the ferry to the south bank (surprising price, only a dozen cents per ticket), to the village of Cassilhas and have a lunch in a local and crowded restaurant. Waiters carry trays of huge lobsters, I order fresh baked cod (bacalhau fresco ao forno) and a glass of red Porto (vinho do Porto), and for dessert arroz doze (kind of rice and cinnamon pudding). It was recommended by an elderly Portuguese couple I met in this place.
Lisboners love their city. One of the locals standing on the shore in Cassilhas was surprised why I was taking photo of the ferry, not of a beautiful Lisbon, which he had just come to see. Usually, the inhabitants of countries do not like their capitals because they are too loud, big and busy. It’s different with Lisbon. Being a Portuguese or a foreigner, you will miss Lisbon and you always want to go back there. In my opinion, Wim Wenders touched the truly soul of this city.
Haja o que houver Eu estou aqui Espero por ti
Come what may I am here, I wait for you.
Aqueduct and cinema museum
When you visit Lisbon go to the great aqueduct – O aqueduto das Águas Livres which crosses the Alcantara valley (Vale de Alcântara). It is very interesting but supposedly dangerous place, which was also not hidden by Wim Wenders. You should also visit the botanical garden – Jardim Botânico in the Rato, different from those found in Central Europe, and later go through Rua Barata Salguei where cinema museum Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema is located. For those looking for musical souvenirs, I recommend FNAC (like Irish Eason) near the Baixa-Chiado metro station. I bought Mafalda Veiga’s album there. And be sure to try salada de polvo, an octopus salad, which does not appeal to the gray appearance of the cut tentacles, so I did not try it, but then my Portuguese friend told me that I lost a lot because it is simply delicious! Another time I will try because I will come back to Lisbon for sure. I miss her so much.
I hope I could took you for a trip to Lisbon by this post. And if you are going to visited the capital of Portugal, you can find many useful information. After few years I was in Porto, and later in Lisbon, again. I still want to come back, again and again.