Our First Full Day in Lisbon!
Quite unintentionally I slept in waaaaaaay longer than I should have. Vince had been awake earlier but didn’t want to disturb me, so when I woke up I found that the time was Noon on Monday… I’d been asleep for around fifteen hours! Whoa… what a start to our first “full” day in Lisbon.
We had, of course, long missed the hotel’s breakfast, so we showered and left the hotel in search of lunch. We ended up just down Rua Augusta at one of the outdoor spots called Grilled & Company. We met, sat and ate with a friendly and lively couple from Calgary who were passing through Lisbon on their first-ever European cruise. They were so much fun to chat with, and they were to be the first of many Canadians we would meet in the two weeks ahead of us.
Praça do Comércio
After lunch we went down to the Praça do Comércio to take a few shots. It truly is a magnificent public square. The first thing you encounter as you come in to the square is the Arco da Rua Augusta (Rua Augusta Arch). The structure is a triumphal arch designed in 1775 as a symbol of Lisbon’s recovery from the destruction of the 1755 earthquake. The arch was completed in 1875:
These elegant hallways extend from the interior sides of the arch:
Sculptures at the top represent Glory crowning Genius and Valor, while below them are images of national heroes Vasco da Gama, the Marquis of Pombal, Nuno Álvares Pereira and Viriato:
In the top third of the Praça do Comércio sits a statue of King José I, created by Machado de Castro in 1775. The king on his horse is symbolically crushing snakes in his path:
On the side facing Rua Augusta is a monumental clock featuring naturalistic motifs:
From Praça do Comércio we walked down to the waterfront and along the banks of the Tagus River:
We took a spin through the beautiful Estação Fluvial Sul e Sueste (The South and Southeast River Station) on the river’s edge. I loved the art deco architecture of this building. Inaugurated in 1932, it has undergone several renovations over the years, the last one being completed in May 2021.
Designed by Cottinelli Telmo (1897-1948) in the Art Déco style, it was built to connect Lisbon to Barreiro by river. Rehabilitated with the Navy Dock, it reopened its doors in April 2021 with new leisure spaces, terraces and a Tagus River promotion centre, after more than 20 years of closed doors. Now it has recovered its original design and function, in a project designed by architect Ana Costa. In addition to the eight ticket offices of operators offering tourist tours, taxi boats and Hop On Hop Off trips on the Tagus, the station has a cafeteria in the former First Class waiting area, where the tiles by painters Alves de Sá (1878) were restored:
Exploring The Alfama
Continuing along the waterfront we meandered into the Alfama. Of all our Lisbon walks, this one came closest to being my favourite. To those unfamiliar, the Alfama district of Lisbon is the city’s oldest neighbourhood. It is packed full of incredible character, breathtaking views, unique shops, and is home to Fado, the traditional Portuguese music.
The Alfama is haphazardly spread on the hill between the Tagus river and São Jorge Castle (Saint George’s Castle), and is a maze of narrow Medieval streets, small squares, and run-down yet totally charming historical buildings covered in azulejos (the traditional light blue ceramic tilework found in Portugal). Dating as far back as 1150, the Alfama was one of the few neighborhoods in Lisbon to survive the devastating 1755 earthquake; it is built on a foundation of bedrock which did not give way and crumble like most of the other Lisbon neighbourhoods.
The Alfama is a photographer’s dream; I took hundreds of shots while there. It was tough picking just the few shots below to represent the Alfama; the district is just so full of character and intrigue:
A Short Fado Diversion
Speaking of Fado, the traditional music of the Portuguese, here’s a short YouTube video explaining this musical genre much better than I could ever attempt. We had planned to take in a Fado performance while in either Lisbon or Portugal but never got there (it’s that old lack of time thing again):
We came upon an outdoor Ginjinha stand in the Alfama and, of course, just had to try the local specialty we had heard so much about.
Ginjinha is yet another Portugal treat. It is a sweet liqueur made from Morello (sour) cherries soaked in a distilled spirit called aguardente. The mixture is flavoured with sugar and spices like cinnamon. It is deceptively sweet, small, and packs a punch. You should get a bit of a burn as you sip. Ginjinha is as iconic in Lisbon as Pastéis de Nata and as much a cultural fixture as Lisbon’s shiny azulejo tiles. Most venues serve it in a small glass, similar to a shot glass. Other bars offer the option of Ginjinha in a chocolate cup. Depending on where you go, a glass of Ginjinha in Lisbon costs about €1 or €1.50.
Discovering Portugal’s Green Wine
Resuming our meandering of the Alfama, we took a break at a little café called O Cantinho dos Seis.
Vince ordered his first glass of Portugal Green Wine (which would became a favourite and was the first of many throughout the trip). I had a Coke Zero (there’s no such thing as Diet Coke in Europe) and a fruit salad to restore my energy levels.
What exactly is Green Wine you may ask? Green Wine is white wine that is served when it is very young; it has not had a chance to age which would make it a smoother drink. Green Wine is sharp, fizzy and sort of citrus-y.
The Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral)
After our rest stop we continued on through the Alfama. We happened upon the magnificent Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral) and toured through it. But first, more ice cream 🙂 :
Then the Cathedral:
Leaving the beauty of the Cathedral behind us we resumed our exploration of the Alfama.
It was getting late in the afternoon so we agreed to head back to the hotel to rest a bit, then locate a nice restaurant for our evening meal. At Rua Augusta 189 we found the restaurant Pastelaria Ferrari and enjoyed a hearty meal. Vince had the veal steak with a glass of red wine, while I settled on the Bacalhau (local codfish) with a glass of white wine:
And now, bring on the Pastéis de Natas…
For those who wonder exactly what are Pastéis de Natas, they are a Portuguese delicacy: simply the most delicious custard egg tarts you will ever eat.
And now for a bit of Pastéis de Nata history:
These delicious little tarts were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) in Lisbon. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as friars and nuns’ religious habits. It was quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.
We returned to the hotel with our little pastries. Let it be said that the things didn’t stand a chance. I just loved them – I could have gorged on them the entire trip but then I would have needed a seatbelt extender for the flight home 🙁
After our dessert we went down Rua Augusta, returning to the Praça do Comércio to get some night shots of the square and its activity:
We returned to our hotel room at about 10:00PM, chilled out for a bit, then turned in at around 11:00PM.
Despite a late start this morning it turned out to be a very satisfying first full day in Lisbon.