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Lisbon Coat of Arms

Oct 2008

olisīpō Latin unknown.

Population - 545,245.

Lisbon Coat of Arms

The dark nights have drawn in, the clocks have gone back so that means nowhere new is being gone to anytime soon. The minds are cast back to late 2008 when the effects of the global financial crisis were just about kicking in and  Quantum of Solace[1] premiered in London.

In those gloomy times[2], you'd think there would have been some solace in a weekend break to Lisbon?

Lisbon - Praça da Figueira

The oldest city in Western Europe and the 7th most visited in Southern Europe? Four nights should be enough although you might be wanting another couple to accommodate a day trip or two? Hmmm.

[1] Just the 4th worst  Bond, apparently.
[2] Things couldn't possibly ever get any worse, eh?

 
Locanda Italiana (Rua Portas de Santo Antão)

Take your pick along the pedestrianised part of Rua das Portas de Santo Antão. It's a bit of a tourist trap but, get this, we're tourists! DO NOT! It's repeated DO NOT! touch the basket of bread and butter, you'll be ripped off to the tune of a few €euros.

Get a bit of perspective man! It's hardly a con, the covert cover charge is just something they do here and if that waiter on the minimum wage sees a fraction of that then fair play to him. Besides, that oily fish paste in a plastic tub really is rather moreish.

One of the first things your book will tell you is the Elevador de Santa Justa or, the Santa Justa Lift if you'd rather.

Not named after Santa but some old saint or other, it will do just that, lifting you the 145 foot up to the area of Bairro Alto. Lisbon's a little hilly, you see, and this and three small funiculars will help you up and down but more on that in a minute.

Original photograph taken by Nol Aders on 17th October 2005, 18:00 Lisbon - View from Santa Justa Lift

There's  A View to a Kill for from atop this early 1900s, Eiffel Tower inspired bit of work. That's the Praça do Rossio down there, one of a surprisingly small number of public squares that you might expect to find in a European capital.

There was a bit of ding-donging over the king in the 1820s and Pedro IV managed to last only slightly longer than Brian Clough did at  Leeds United. Just like  Cloughie, and because of some good work elsewhere, he's celebrated here in bronze and has been since 1860.

 
Nicola Café (Praça Dom Pedro)

Café-come-restaurant-come-bar that's right opposite Pedro and ideal for a nosy nightcap.

A couple of miles north-west of Pedro is the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, which is the cultural highlight of Lisbon, nay Portugal! The  foundation manages a museum, concert halls and galleries all set in an impressive, landscaped garden that itself is a piece of artwork and free to explore.

Not in the mood for an Etruscan pot? Head for the Centro de Arte Moderna, the type of place that's occasionally known to have been engaged with.

Centro de Arte Moderna, Lisboa

Sometimes, it's like something was made  For Your Eyes Only although this only happens about once every 5 years. Most times, any comments could best be described as 'sniggery'.

A tip. Don't go on a Monday... it's shut! Before you know it, you'll be looking for a loo in a department store wondering what else there is to do here? Only the Parque Eduardo VII!

Lisbon - Parque Eduardo VII

Lisbon's largest with a fine view down to the city centre, there's a good half day's worth in and around here. It's named after another king, our very own  Eddie-the-Seventh!

In 1902, he too fancied a long weekend and to cement relations between the nations, they named the park after him and even opened up the galleries on a Monday, probably.

The Castelo de São Jorge is just that, a castle named after St George and yes, that one. Now they tend to put castles on the top of hills so the Ascensor do Lavra will ferry you up funicular style to there or thereabouts?

Lisbon - INT. ASCENSOR DO LAVRA DAY (STATIONARY)

Except this isn't the hill you want. You'll be on board barely a minute despite waiting ten times that for the driver to finish his fag before walking down the other side having seen nothing more interesting than the back of a hospital.

You could try asking for directions... '  Dr Não esse é o castelo?'

Having hauled yourself up to the castle, manually, you'll need to part with some €euros to gain entrance. Although the site dates from the BCs, several builders have been called in over the centuries and you can read all about the history  here.

No, the ramparts are being headed to for some excellent views but let's be clear, it's all a bit borderline for these wobblies and yes, that'll be the old vertigo.

Lisbon - Castelo de São Jorge

It's a strange sensation, like the  Skyfalls in on you and yes, it's known to be irrational and yes, it's known that Health & Safety wouldn't really allow this if your lives were in any real danger despite this being Southern Europe.

With your hands prised from the rails and your back peeled off the wall, there are some rewarding views over the city and beyond. You can see the hotel from here and yes, that's Pedro just sneaking in at the top.

Lisbon - View from Castelo de São Jorge Lisbon - View from Castelo de São Jorge

Looking east and further afield, the River Tagus eventually leads to the Atlantic and the Ponte 25 de Abril is one impressive suspension bridge.

It's the 27th largest in the world and carries two train tracks and six lanes of traffic. Having been underneath it, it doesn't half clank and it's enough to scare  The Living Daylights out of you.

 
My Story Hotel Tejo (Rua Condes de Monsanto)

Boutique-style hotel that you can see from the castle with a small bar and an awful lot of blue going on.

The castle is in the Almafa district, a maze of old narrow streets and passages and the spiritual home of  Fado.

You know, the mournful musical style that's sung solo with a minimal backing track and addresses hardship, nostalgia and longing. Think of sad Country music with a classical guitar and a likely mention of the esposa leaving with the cão, a  Licence to Kill the mood at any party.

Down towards the river, you'll arrive at the Praça do Comércio, Lisbon's gateway back in the day and still the largest public square.

Lisbon Downtown

The buildings are on 3 sides and feature distinctive archways, built to replace the former Royal Palace. The reason for the rebuilding? Just the unfortunate combination of a major earthquake, a tidal wave and then fire in 1755 that just about destroyed the city.

 
Bairro Alto

Just like Almafa, this neighbourhood has a fair share of Fado going on the backstreets. You'll find it all just about south-west of Pedro and the main Rua do Loreto provides some shopping amongst the sobbing.

Now, if you've ever seen any TV travel program, ever, you'll probably know all of the above already and this pair sort of already did. The real reason for being down here, however, was to catch a train to do a day trip... 3 times! Yes, 4 nights here but with a trio of day trips.

Beyond the castle and the park and even some mandatory mooching around the shopping area behind the Arco da Rua Augusta, it's not the sort of place that invites you to just hang out during the day. There are too many people actually living and working here to have time for that, probably.

Lisbon - Rua Augusta

It's fine in the evening although the food wasn't found to be exactly jumping off the plate. There wasn't a sardine in sight and those custard tarts start to get a bit samey although the first bit of squid that's been seen cooked correctly.

Tender and not remotely rubbery, it can be done and it should never have the texture of  Octopus, see!

 
Belém

Just 4 miles west and under the bridge, the train from Cais do Sodré will get you here where there's nearly enough for a full day.

Highlights include a Gothic monastery, public gardens and a redeveloped riverside. Don't forget the early 16th-century fortified tower and the Monument to the Discoveries, a sculpted, concrete nod to the golden age of Portuguese exploration.

Lisbon - Belém - Monument to the Discoveries

Also home to the Pastéis de Belém, the world famous, in Lisbon, custard tart. They can bang out 50,000 of these a day, when in season, and other providers elsewhere are simply missing something from this secret recipe.